Coalition Letter to DHS/State re: US Jailing of Asylum Seekers

January 31, 2007

Mr. Robert K. Harris
Assistant Legal Adviser for Refugees
U.S. Department of State
Office of the Legal Adviser
2201 C Street NW, Room 3422
Washington, D.C. 20520-6419

Mr. Dan Sutherland
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Re: Request for Field Visit from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Dear Mr. Harris and Mr. Sutherland:

We are writing to urge the United States to respond favorably to the request of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit the United States in order to assess the situation of asylum seekers being detained here. As faith-based, human rights and other organizations across the United States working on behalf of refugees seeking asylum, we are deeply concerned that current U.S. policy is resulting in asylum seekers being detained unfairly and in violation of U.S. commitments under international human rights law. As you know, nearly two years ago the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that there are significant problems in implementing and maintaining safeguards for asylum seekers in the expedited removal process. The Commission found that asylum seekers are detained in jails and jail-like facilities that are inappropriate for them, that these detention conditions create a serious risk of psychological harm, and that release rates vary widely across the country, with parole rates as low as 0.5 % in New Orleans, 8.4% in New York and 3.8% in Newark, New Jersey.

For example, a Burmese woman, a member of a religious and ethnic minority group, was detained for nearly two years in a Texas immigration jail, even though she would clearly face torture and persecution because of her political views if returned to Burma. Similarly, a pastor, who fled Liberia after criticizing the use and abuse of child soldiers, was detained for three months in a New Jersey immigration jail.

The Commission’s recommendations relating to the detention and parole of asylum seekers have still not been implemented by U.S. immigration authorities. We have attached a briefing paper, prepared by Human Rights First, which outlines some of the ways in which U.S. detention practices regarding asylum seekers are inconsistent with this country’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States ratified on June 8, 1992.

We note that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has made a request to visit the United States, in order to assess the situation of all detainees in U.S. facilities, including asylum seekers (Report to the Economic and Social Council, 12 December 2005, E/CN.4/2006/7, page 12, paragraph 25). We understand that the Working Group is awaiting a positive consideration of this request.

We urge the United States to respond to the Working Group’s request for a visit that would include an assessment of the U.S. detention of asylum seekers. A favorable response would be consistent with this country’s commitments under international law to ensure the protection of asylum seekers. A visit from the Working Group could also provide valuable information on how to move forward and ensure that the United States fully meets its responsibilities to asylum seekers under international law.

We look forward to your response. If you should need any additional information on this matter, please contact Jay Staunton or Alexandra Wisotsky of Human Rights First at 202-547-5692.

Sincerely,

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Washington D.C.

American Friends Service Committee
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

American Immigration Lawyers Association
Washington D.C.

Amnesty International USA
Washington D.C.

Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS)
Dearborn, Michigan

Asian American Justice Center
Washington D.C.

Capital Area Immigrant’s Rights Coalition
Washington D.C.

Center for Constitutional Rights
New York, New York

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
University of California, Hastings College of the Law

Center for Intercultural Organizing
Portland, Oregon

Center for Victims of Torture
Washington D.C.

Episcopal Migration Ministries
New York, New York

First Friends, Elizabeth Detention Center Program
Elizabeth, New Jersey

Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center
Miami, Florida

Grassroots Leadership
Charlotte, North Carolina

Hispanic Development Corporation
Elizabeth, New Jersey

Hate Free Zone
Seattle, Washington

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,
New York, New York

Hispanic Development Corporation
Newark, New Jersey

Homies Unidos,
Los Angeles, California

Human Rights First
New York, New York

Idaho Community Action Network
Boise, Idaho

Immigrant & Refugee Rights Program
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Washington D.C.

Interfaith Refugee Action
Elizabeth, New Jersey

Kurdish Human Rights Watch
Fairfax, Virginia

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
San Francisco, California

Legal Momentum
New York, New York

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Baltimore, Maryland

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Boston, Massachusetts

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network
Saint Paul, MN

Na Loio, Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center,
Honolulu, HI

National Council of La Raza
Washington D.C.

National Immigration Forum
Washington D.C.

National Immigration Justice Center
Chicago, Illinois

Northwest Federation of Community Organizations
Seattle, Washington

Physicians for Human Rights
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project
Boston, Massachusetts

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
Westminster, Colorado

Rocky Mountain Survivor Center,
Westminster, Colorado

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Washington D.C.

Students United for Immigrant Rights,
Racine, Wisconsin

Tahirih Justice Center,
Falls Church, Virginia

The Riverside Church Sojourners Ministry with Detained Immigrants/Detention Center Visitors' Project
New York, New York

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Boston, Massachusetts

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Washington D.C.

Voces de la Frontera,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Individuals1

Franced Geteles, PhD.
Clinical Psychologist, member of Asylum Network of Physicians

Daniel Kowalski
Editor in Chief, Benders Immigration Bulletin

James Landrith
Founder, The Multiracial Activist

Jaya Ramji-Nogales
Assistant Professor of Law, Temple University

Penny Venetis
Clinical Professor of Law
Co-Director, Constitutional Litigation Clinic Rutgers School of Law

1 Law firms and university names are used for identification purposes only

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