HIAS Statement on the House Judiciary Committee on H.R. 391, “The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017”

Statement submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary of the

U.S. House of Representatives


Markup of H.R. 391, “The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017”


Hearing on July 26, 2017


HIAS—the American Jewish community's global refugee organization—believes that an asylum system that is fair, effective, and humane honors both our country’s history and reflects the deeply-held American tradition of offering a chance at a new beginning to those who face persecution. Once given the opportunity, refugees and asylees become active and productive members of American communities. Unfortunately, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 391) would severely undermine the United States’ legacy and ability to continue to offer safe haven to targets and victims of persecution.

This bill would have grave consequences for women, children, and families fleeing the “Northern Triangle” of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. While we have seen a decrease in the numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly since the spike in 2014, the severe violence and persecution in these countries persists.

H.R. 391 would undermine laws designed to identify and prevent human trafficking as well as send children fleeing violence by gangs back to countries where they face physical and sexual violence, and even death. The bill would narrow the definition of “persecution” under U.S. law, creating insurmountable barriers for those who seek safety. This bill would change the definition of “particular social group,” which has largely evolved in the courts and would disproportionately impact women and children fleeing gender-based violence, gang violence, and other forms of persecution.

H.R. 391 would heighten the credibility standard for asylum seekers, making it even more difficult to win an asylum claim. This provision is unnecessary given that the current system includes anti-fraud mechanisms, and it could result in many asylum seekers being wrongfully rejected. 

In order to ensure that asylum seekers are not returned to persecution, HIAS recommends that Congress:

  • Allocate funds to immigration courts to process cases quickly and fund programs to help ensure the safe return and integration of children who are sent back to their home countries; and
  • Ensure that systems and funding are in place so that all migrants have competent legal representation and are not left alone to represent themselves in court.

Throughout our history, the United States has been defined by our generosity toward those who seek safety. To remain a global humanitarian leader, our laws must be thoroughly consistent with international refugee law and the principles of due process. All individuals must have a meaningful opportunity to claim protection if they fear persecution, and the immigration system must be fair and humane.

HIAS looks forward to working with Congress to meet these goals. Our history and values—as Jews and as Americans—compel us to preserve the American tradition of welcome and providing refuge.

Click here to see a letter signed by HIAS and more than 70 other national and state organizations opposing H.R. 391.