Comprehensive Immigration Reform Through Senate Bill S. 744

Senate Judiciary Committee Amendments Affecting Unaccompanied Migrant Children, Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Stateless Individuals

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Protecting vulnerable migrants, including those fleeing persecution and unaccompanied children, is a Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) priority for immigration reform.

On May 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee began considering amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). Ongoing hearings to “mark up” the legislation are expected to last through May 24. This time is a critical opportunity to strengthen the bill’s positive measures while mitigating harmful provisions.

LIRS applauds the following amendments expanding protections for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers:

  • Coons 8: Grants work authorization to asylum applicants six months after they file an application. This allows asylum seekers, who may wait years for a grant of asylum, to work while their applications are pending.
  • Hirono 22: Protects children by requiring child welfare professionals to screen and interview children apprehended by immigration agents at the border.

LIRS opposes the following amendments that limit protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless individuals in the United States:

  • Grassley 27: This amendment would perpetuate current unnecessary and costly barriers to protection. It undoes improvements in S. 744 that assist bona fide asylum seekers and fix costly inefficiencies in the asylum process. Specifically, it maintains the one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers and revokes the ability for asylum officers to grant asylum after a credible fear determination.
  • Grassley 25: Eliminates a permanent process created in S. 744 for the President to designate certain vulnerable migrants for refugee resettlement in the United States. This provision would save resources by allowing the President, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, to make this designation for humanitarian reasons, such as persecution of religious minorities, or for the national interest.
  • Grassley 26: Eliminates a provision in S. 744 that provides a pathway to legal status for stateless individuals in the United States who have no nationality or citizenship in any country and are currently in legal limbo through no fault of their own. This amendment leaves stateless individuals vulnerable to undue hardships, such as detention.
  • Grassley 52: Delays certain asylum changes in S. 744 until an Inspector General report is submitted to Congress detailing “intelligence and immigration failures” of the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks. None of S. 744’s provisions undermine, limit or circumvent security screenings or checks currently in place for refugees and asylees.
  • Graham 1: Terminates asylee and refugee status for migrants who return to the country of persecution. Refugees and asylees have many legitimate reasons for returning to their countries of origin, such as attending a funeral, or assisting with reconstruction efforts. Automatic terminations of status could lead to violations of U.S. and international law and result in returning an individual to persecution.