HIAS Response to First Senate Immigration Hearing of New Congress: Fix the Refugee System!

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the global migration agency of the American Jewish community, welcomes today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” as an important step toward fixing our country’s broken immigration system.

Especially gratifying were the remarks of Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who cited examples such as the contributions of former HIAS client Sergey Brin of Google and Jerry Yang of Yahoo! to illustrate the importance of “encouraging family immigration to this country so that people who dream the ‘American dream’ can also provide us with their talents and entrepreneurialism.” Her comments served as a reminder that immigrants and their children who come to the U.S. to join family or enter as refugees fleeing persecution strive for success and are responsible for some of this country’s most innovative and job-creating businesses.

According to Mark Hetfield, President & CEO of HIAS: 

“As Congress and President Obama work to fix the broken immigration system, they shouldn't neglect refugees who have fled persecution to build new lives in this country. In order to ensure that local communities remain welcoming to refugees, we need to update our outdated laws, reverse chronic underfunding, better prepare refugees for life in America, and – for the first time – create clear goals and a comprehensive approach for successful refugee integration. The humanitarian act of saving and resettling refugees not only benefits the refugees themselves, it also benefits the local communities where they resettle and the country as a whole, which gain so much from these newcomers.

“As Jews, we support policies that fulfill the Torah's mandate to 'welcome the stranger,' as we know that effective immigration policies have often made the difference between life and death, between oppression and the opportunity for success. It is crucial that we utilize this opportunity to provide safe haven to the persecuted. HIAS looks forward to working with legislators and immigrant communities to revamp and revitalize our country’s current immigration system in a way that honors our American and Jewish values.”

HIAS encourages Congress to incorporate provisions from the Refugee Protection Act into any comprehensive immigration reform bill. Specifically, the Secretary of State should be authorized to designate certain groups as eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees, currently the State Department lacks this authority and therefore is unable to address situations in which a group is targeted for persecution in their country of origin or country of first asylum and needs expedited resettlement for humanitarian reasons. Furthermore, comprehensive immigration reform legislation should address current laws that threaten the rights and safety of asylum seekers, with a harsh expedited removal system, arbitrary deadlines for filing asylum claims, and other limitations on asylum seekers’ ability to obtain protection in the U.S.

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