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Women’s Refugee Commission Responds to Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act

Act would heighten standards for asylum, endangering women and children fleeing harm in home countries

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 391, the “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act,” a bill now sponsored by Rep. Johnson (R-LA). The bill includes countless harmful provisions that make it more difficult for asylum seekers, particularly women and children fleeing gender-based and gang violence, to access asylum or find protection in the United States. The bill severely limits access to the asylum process for those who seek protection at our borders, heightening the threshold for an initial interview that an individual would have to meet before they are even allowed to proceed with an asylum claim. Asylum seekers who do establish a possibility of a fear of return would be far less likely to be released from detention on parole and would instead face prolonged detention in remote detention centers with little access to legal counsel as they navigate their case. The bill includes numerous other provisions that would also dramatically limit access to protection and justice for those seeking protection in the United States.

The bill’s provisions would have devastating consequences for countless vulnerable women, children, LGBTI individuals, and others, and especially impact the many families and individuals who have fled growing violence and persecution in Central America in recent years. Amendments offered by Rep. Lofgren (D-CA), Conyers (D-MI), Jayapal (D-WA), and other Democrats to address the undue burdens and harm this bill would create were repeatedly rejected by Republican members of the Committee.

Katharina Obser, Senior Program Officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, responded with the following statement:

“It is not illegal to seek asylum, yet this act threatens to push increasing numbers of women, children, and all vulnerable asylum seekers into the hands of smugglers, or back into the dangerous conditions that they are fleeing. As a nation, we have a moral and legal obligation to protect these individuals. Those fleeing or fearing harm in their home countries have always had the right, protected by international and domestic U.S. law, to seek asylum in the United States. The provisions in H.R. 391 would fundamentally undermine this country’s commitment and legal obligations to ensure that those seeking safety in the United States would have access to a fair and just process and dramatically limit the ability to access asylum for some of the most vulnerable individuals. Many mothers, children, and others fleeing harm due to their membership in a particular social group would effectively be cut off from protection, as would those fearing violence perpetrated by gangs who were forced to flee after not finding safety or protection in their home countries. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Women’s Refugee Commission, and numerous others have for years documented that women and children in Central America have fled violence rising to the level deserving of international protection. Even those who would still be able to meet the heightened threshold this bill requires for an initial asylum screening would be more likely to languish in detention, forced to navigate an even more complicated process from remote jails at the cost of the U.S. taxpayer.

There are countless ways in which we can improve the integrity of the U.S. asylum process, but H.R. 391 would only curtail, not strengthen, our obligations to ensure access to protection.”