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Asylum and Refugee Status

Values: Everyone has the right to seek refugee status or asylum from persecution.

The right to asylum or refugee status is internationally recognized as a basic human right. Any individual who has suffered (or credibly fears) persecution in their home country due to their race, religion, nationality, social group identity, or political opinion may gain the protection afforded by asylum or refugee status.

Problem: Many credible applicants for asylum or refugee status are unfairly denied

  • Criminal bars are too broad.

Under immigration law, an individual convicted of a “particularly serious crime” in the US is barred from obtaining (or keeping) asylum or refugee status, and is automatically detained and placed in deportation proceedings, no matter how long they have lived lawfully in the country. The definition of “particularly serious crime,” which exists only in immigration law, includes any so-called “aggravated felony,” an over-broad category that includes filing a false tax return, failing to appear in court, shoplifting, and certain low-level drug offenses.

  • Judges have no discretion to consider mitigating factors.

If an individual has a “particularly serious crime” conviction, a judge has very limited authority to consider his or her case individually, taking account of such factors as the the threat of persecution a person faces in his or her home country, the seriousness of the conviction, or whether that individual has strong family and community ties to the US. Meanwhile, immigration officers and judges do retain the discretion to determine in a given case that an offense not ordinarily considered a “particularly serious crime” may be deemed one.

  • Many asylum seekers have inadequate (or no) legal representation.

The United States government does not guarantee immigrants the help of an advocate or a lawyer; consequently, many have to do without. Studies have found that more than 60 percent of immigrants facing removal (and 80 percent of those held in detention) were not represented by an attorney, and that asylum seekers without legal representation were almost five times less likely to avoid deportation.

  • Those deported may face persecution is a cruel, disproportionate punishment in their home country.

The US government holds immigrants generally and asylum seekers in particular to standards of perfect behavior not expected of other Americans, and routinely returns them to persecution, including the risk of physical harm and even death, in their home countries, via proceedings that lack basic due process protections.

Solution: Reduce barriers to asylum and refugee status

  • Scrap mandatory criminal bars so that an immigrant with a criminal conviction who seeks (or has) asylum or refugee status can go before a judge who has discretion to weigh all the circumstances of the case in deciding whether or not to order that person deported
  • Narrow the range of convictions for which a refugee or asylum seeker may be deported
  • Ensure that all asylum seekers and refugees facing the threat of deportation receive effective legal representation
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