New York, NY
The House of Representatives’ “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act” (HR 4437) will be devastating to refugee women and children seeking asylum in the United States, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children contends.
“Several provisions of the bill have life and death consequences for women and children asylum seekers who are fleeing rape, female genital mutilation, honor killings, forced marriages, sexual slavery, trafficking, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of age-and gender-related persecution,” says Joanne Kelsey, director, detention and asylum.
The bill will expand the mandatory detention of immigrants, including female asylum seekers who have satisfied Department of Homeland Security (DHS) release criteria. “This provision disregards the reality that female asylum seekers have often suffered gender-based persecution in their home countries and may be further traumatized by detention,” Kelsey says. “The provision was created to ensure attendance at immigration proceedings, but expert studies done in collaboration with the former INS have shown that 91 percent of immigrants in alternative detention programs attend their immigration proceedings.”
The bill also expands the use of expedited removal despite the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2005 report finding that the current program does not appropriately protect asylum seekers. The expansion of this program will cause more women and children to be returned to potentially life-threatening situations.
The bill would increase the number of families separated while in detention due to a lack of family detention facilities. It also exposes the 1.5 million children in the United States who do not
have lawful status to the threat of mandatory detention and expedited removal, which can endanger their lives.
This bill also introduces a new standard for federal court review: a substantial showing that the appeal will be granted. As fewer than half of detained women and children have legal representation, it is extraordinarily unlikely that these asylum seekers can meet this standard. Therefore, this in-depth review, which currently operates as a safety net for these vulnerable populations, will become unattainable.
Women and children constitute up to 80 percent of the world’s refugees. “Although we acknowledge the need to protect the nation from terrorism,” Kelsey says, “we cannot afford to relinquish our strong international leadership in the protection of the world’s most vulnerable, particularly when they come to us seeking safe haven.”