Comprehensive Immigration Reform through Senate Bill S. 744

Positive Changes for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Stateless Individuals

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As Congress considers comprehensive immigration reform, our proud history of protecting and welcoming victims of persecution and torture is at stake. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long sought to ensure those fleeing persecution find protection in the United States, unite refugee families, and improve opportunities for vulnerable migrants to be welcomed into our communities and our nation.

LIRS therefore applauds the Senate for passing S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act on June 27, 2013. The bipartisan bill, passed by a vote of 68-32, would create more efficient and humane processes to protect and welcome refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people by:

  • Eliminating the one-year filing deadline. Currently, persecuted people are barred from receiving asylum if their application is filed more than a year after they arrive in the United States. S. 744 would eliminate this deadline and allow asylum seekers to reopen their cases if they were previously denied solely because of late application.
  • Improving efficiency, justice, and transparency by allowing refugee applicants abroad to have legal representation during the application process. The bill also requires that applicants who are denied refugee status receive a written explanation for their rejection.
  • Enhancing refugee family unity. The bill rectifies gaps in current law that can permanently separate refugee families.  It allows children of a refugee or asylee’s spouse or child to accompany or join them in the United States. Additionally, surviving widows and orphans of principal applicants could continue the visa process after the applicant’s death.
  • Allowing the President to designate certain groups of refugees to be resettled to the United States. This would bolster protection and efficiency. The President could designate certain groups as having a well-founded fear of persecution, instead of requiring each individual within that group to meet this standard. This would solidify existing laws that protect certain religious minorities, including those from the former Soviet Union and Iran.
  • Authorizing trained, expert asylum officers to grant claims of asylum who can show credible reasons for fearing persecution. This would replace the current practice of referring arriving asylum seekers to immigration courts for what can be lengthy and costly adversarial proceedings that often retraumatize those seeking protection. Additionally, work authorization would be streamlined for asylum seekers whose petitions are pending for longer than 180 days, ensuring they are able to support themselves through the adjudication process.
  • Extending and improving the Special Immigrant Visa program for Iraqis and Afghanis who assisted U.S. military efforts abroad. The bill improves processing and efficiency for visa applicants and allows unused visas to be allocated through the end of fiscal year 2018.
  • Protecting stateless persons living in the United States. The bill defines the term “stateless person” for the first time in U.S. law and allows certain people who are stateless and living in the United States to apply for conditional residency and eventual citizenship.
  • Improving access to citizenship. The bill would provide elderly refugees with greater access to naturalization, ensuring more full and meaningful integration into American civic life while respecting their vulnerabilities. The bill also strengthens federal efforts to help refugees integrate into American communities, including assistance to refugees aspiring to naturalize.

While there are many positive changes in S. 744, the bill falls short as follows:

  • Refugees and asylees who return to their country of origin without demonstrating good cause to do so will have their status revoked.