Tahirih Applauds Critical Legislation to Reform US Asylum System

Posted April 6, 2010

The Tahirih Justice Center’s public policy advocacy efforts have intensified in recent months to ensure the protection of women and girls seeking asylum in the United States. Tahirih represents and advocates on behalf of women and girls who seek refuge in this country after fleeing brutal domestic violence, rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other forms of gender-based persecution. Tahirih has worked to draw attention to the challenges facing women and girls who seek protection under the current US asylum system, and we applaud and deeply appreciate the recent introduction of critical legislation that would greatly assist Tahirih’s clients.

On March 15, 2010, Senators Leahy and Levin introduced the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3113). This landmark legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Durbin, Akaka, and Burris, reaffirms the United States’ commitment to all those fleeing persecution and torture, and, among other critical reforms, includes key provisions that will assist women and girls seeking asylum in the United States. When introducing the bill, Senator Leahy noted that the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 would “repeal the most harsh and unnecessary elements of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a law that had tragic consequences for asylum seekers. It also corrects agency and court misinterpretations of law that limit access to safety in the United States for asylum seekers.” See Senator Leahy’s press release here.

Help Sustain Asylum Advocacy

Originally scheduled for April 1-30, 2010, the Protecting Lives Giving Challenge is a fundraising campaign among the generous attorneys and staff at our pro bono partner law firms, with the goal this year to raise $50,000 to help sustain our gender-based asylum advocacy. Due to an exciting donation match opportunity with Lexis Nexis, we are delaying the start date until May 1, 2010, and are excited about the opportunity to raise more support for immigrant women and girls fleeing violence! Read More >

In the months preceding the introduction of this important legislation, Tahirih called the attention of the public and policymakers to the many obstacles to protection faced by women and girls who have fled gender-based persecution. In September 2009, Tahirih held a Congressional Briefing and released a new report that highlighted how current US law and policy prevents many women and girls from finding the safe haven they desperately need and deserve here. Tahirih followed up these awareness-raising activities with direct outreach to urge Congress and the Administration to enact a number of long overdue reforms to the US asylum system.

In particular, Tahirih worked closely with Senator Leahy’s office to ensure that the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 strengthens the United States’ commitment to protect women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution. In addition to eliminating an arbitrary one-year filing deadline (a procedural hurdle that is applicable to all asylum-seekers but that has a particularly harsh impact on women and girls), the bill also clarifies the proper legal framework to apply to gender-based asylum claims.

The Refugee Protection Act of 2010 is supported by over 20 organizations around the country; in addition to Tahirih, endorsing organizations include Amnesty International, Human Rights First, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (at UC Hastings School of Law), and Refugees International. (Visit Human Rights First to learn more about the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 and to take action.)

Tahirih is also grateful for the recent introduction of other legislation in the House of Representatives that will help our asylum clients receive a fair hearing and obtain justice. Following Tahirih’s briefing and report release, several Congressional offices reached out to Tahirih to better understand the problems currently faced by women asylum seekers and to explore solutions. As one critical step forward, on March 10, 2010, Representatives Jim Moran, Pete Stark, and Diane Watson introduced the Restoring Protection for Victims of Persecution Act (H.R. 4800), a bill which would eliminate the one-year bar to asylum and re-focus the attention of asylum officers and immigration judges on the actual merits of an applicant’s appeal for US protection. Representatives Jim McGovern, Yvette Clarke, and Raul Grijalva have recently also signed on to co-sponsor this bill.

Tahirih looks forward to working with these Congressional champions and other allies in the months ahead to ensure that women and girls fleeing gender-based violence can access safety and obtain justice in the United States.

Photo by Sergio Pessolano.