How Anti-terrorist legislation may affect assylum seekers

by Lawyers Commitee on Human Rights Thursday, Oct. 04, 2001 at 10:24 PM
www.lchr.org

This article starts out slow and dull, but gets to the heart of the matter with the paragraph begining- "House Bill Contains New Probision That Could Jeopardize Genuine Asylum Seekers..."-

errorStatement on Immigration Issues in Counter-Terrorism
Legislation

LCHR WELCOMES PROGRESS, BUT CALLS FOR IMPROVEMENTS
ON DETENTION LANGUAGE AND REMOVAL OF A TROUBLING
NEW PROVISION THAT COULD HURT ASYLUM-SEEKERS

October 2, 2001

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the
U.S. government has the authority, indeed the duty,
to take every reasonable step to ensure security for
everyone in the United States. As one of its first
official responses, the Bush Administration has
proposed counter-terrorism legislation for
fast-track approval by Congress.

Congress is now debating and negotiating this legislation, and the Lawyers Committee for Human
Rights welcomes the progress that has been made.
For example, we are relieved that the Attorney
General's decision to label a non-U.S. citizen as a
threat to national security would, under the current
proposal, be subject to, at least, limited judicial
review.

At the same time, we remain deeply concerned that
the proposed legislation would still allow for the
indefinite detention of some non-U.S. citizens. We
are also disturbed that a new provision in the House
bill could put genuine asylum seekers and their
families in serious danger by allowing U.S.
officials to disclose sensitive information to the
governments from which the refugees have fled.

An initial proposal of the legislation would have
allowed indefinite detention of any non-U.S. citizen
on the authority of the Attorney General. The new
bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee
Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Ranking
Minority Member John Conyers (D-MI), would allow
detention without charge for up to seven days. Afterthat, the authorities would have to charge the
non-citizen with a crime or with a violation of
immigration law in order to keep him or her in
custody.

The current bill could still lead to indefinite
detention, in the case of a non-U.S. citizen who has
been charged with an immigration violation. The
Attorney General has discretion to order an
individual deported and then to postpone deportation
indefinitely. Detention could also become indefinite
if the United States seeks to deport a detainee to a
country that refuses to accept the person.

Under the current bill, the Attorney General now
must have "reasonable grounds to believe" that a
person is a possible terrorist before labeling him
or her as such, and ordering detention. This is an
improvement over the "reason to believe" standard in
the earlier proposal, but still needs greater
clarification.

Under the current proposal, only the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia can review the
grounds for detention, regardless of where the
detainee is being held. In many cases, this will be
a major obstacle for detainees seeking their right
to judicial review.

House Bill Contains New Provision That Could
Jeopardize Genuine Asylum Seekers and Their Families

Under the new House proposal, U.S. authorities can
for the first time disclose the otherwise
confidential contents of an asylum seeker's
application, including to the government from which
they are fleeing. This would occur in cases where
the applicant has been accused of being a terrorist
or a threat to national security. Many repressive
governments around the world use accusations of
terrorism to justify violations of human rights, to
arrest people without sufficient cause and extort
information from them under torture, to discredit
and destroy their political opponents. If enacted,
this provision would put the lives of refugees
fleeing repressive governments and their family
members back home at serious risk. These are the
very people we should now be protecting. The
Immigration and Naturalization Service must have
discretion to investigate asylum applicants, as it
already does.

We wholeheartedly support the U.S. governments
efforts to protect public safety, and agree with the
Attorney General and the authors of the House bill
that new measures are required to support those
efforts. Protecting the public, however, does not
require the indefinite detention of non-citizens and
the endangerment of innocent asylum seekers and
their families.

We urge the Attorney General and the Congress to
continue to amend this legislation so that it will
not put at risk the rights of refugees and other
non-U.S. citizens.