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This article was originally published on April 06, 2010.

Landmark legislation introduced this Spring would reaffirm the United States’ commitment to all those fleeing persecution and torture, and, among other critical reforms, would enact key provisions to help women and girls seeking asylum in the United States.

Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 in the Senate on March 15. The act, he said, 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.”

In recent months, Tahirih’s has called attention to devastating consequences of unsettled polices and law on women survivors of violence seeking asylum. Last September, Tahirih held a congressional briefing and released a new report that highlighted how current U.S. 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 U.S. 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, and Refugees International.

Tahirih is also grateful for the recent introduction of other legislation in the House of Representatives that will help its 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.

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