Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives Thursday that would improve the Nation's immigration laws to ensure the longstanding American tradition of protecting refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries.
The Refugee Protection Act responds to shortfalls in current immigration law by repealing some of the most harsh, inefficient and unnecessary hurdles facing refugees and asylum seekers. The bill, which mirrors legislation Lofgren and Leahy have advanced previously in recent years, reaffirms the commitments made in ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention, and will help to restore the United States to its rightful role as a safe and welcoming home for those suffering from persecution around the world. The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The House bill is cosponsored by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Jared Polis (D-Co.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
"Americans have long been a compassionate people, offering a safe harbor to victims of devastating calamities and survivors of tortuous, brutal regimes," Rep. Lofgren said. "The legislation we're introducing today not only continues that proud tradition, it makes several needed improvements to ensure we can help those seeking freedom from persecution and oppression abroad."
"The Senate will soon turn to comprehensive immigration reform and the changes to the refugee system contained in this bill are a critical component of fixing our broken immigration system," said Leahy, who noted that Vermont has welcomed many refugees and asylum seekers. "As we address the many complex issues that face our immigration system, we must ensure that America upholds its longstanding commitment to refugee protection."
The Refugee Protection Act will improve protections for refugees and asylum seekers, and make important reforms to the expedited removal process for asylum seekers pursuing their claims before the Asylum Office of the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation requires the immigration detention system to adhere to basic humane treatment for asylum seekers and others with access to counsel, religious practice, and visits from family. The bill also strengthens the law so those with actual ties to terrorist activities will continue to be denied entry to the United States, and it protects innocent asylum seekers and refugees from being unfairly denied protection as a result of overly broad terrorism bars that, over time, have inadvertently had the effect of sweeping in those who were actually victimized by terrorists.