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How Anti-terrorist legislation may affect assylum seekers

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

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..."-

Statement on Immigration Issues in Counter-Terrorism





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


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


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


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 Ð 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. governmentÕs

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.

Report this post as:

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