The Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing yesterday on the Refugee Protection Act. I wasnít able to attend, but the Senate conveniently records such hearings, and you can view it here.
My friend who attended thought it did not go very well for supporters of the bill. I canít say I agree, though the last five minutes, when neither of the pro-RPA witnesses could answer Senator Frankenís softball questions and each tried to defer to the other, was not a shining moment. Here are some other moments worth mentioning:
The ranking Republican, Senator Sessions from Alabama, raised some legitimate (and some not-so-legitimate) concerns that will probably need to be addressed if the bill is ever to become law. Of course, the first issue was national security. He felt that the RPA would allow Osama Bin Ladenís wife (wives?) and children to claim asylum in the United States, as the law relaxes barriers for family members of terrorists. Given the limited number of people we can admit each year, he argued, we would be better off admitting people without close ties to terrorists. He also stated that the RPA would broaden the definition of ďasylum seeker,Ē and thus encourage more fraudulent claims. He questioned how many people we could realistically allow to enter the United States as refugees and asylees. He argued that we could not admit everyone who meets the definition of a refugee, and said that if things fell apart in Afghanistan or Iraq, we could not take in all the people who sided with us in those wars.
There were two pro-RPA witnesses, Dan Glickman of Refugees International and Patrick Giantonio of Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates. They argued that the one-year filing deadline does not serve its intended purpose of reducing fraud. Mr. Giantonio noted that many asylum seekers who fail to file within one year of arrival receive withholding of removal or relief under the UN Convention Against Torture. Both forms of relief have a higher burden of proof than asylum. Thus, if the one year deadline were not an issue, such people would have qualified for asylum (I agree with this point). From the alienís point of view, asylum is a more desirable outcome than the other forms of relief, but the witnesses did not mention the benefits of asylum. The pro-RPA witnesses also emphasized that the bill would not compromise national security because refugees and asylum seekers would remain subject to all the same background checks that are currently required. Mr. Giantonio also briefly mentioned some of the deleterious effects of immigration detention on asylum seekers.
Igor V. Timofeyev, a former DHS official and a Soviet Jewish refugee, testified in his personal capacity. He appeared as the anti-RPA witness, though his criticisms were fairly tame (refreshing given the normal discourse on most immigration-related issues). His concerns were national security, national security, and national security. He also mentioned that federal appeals courts are overburdened with immigration cases.
Finally, it bears mentioning that Senator Leahy included in the record a letter signed by 89 faith-based, human rights, legal services and refugee assistance organizations and 99 individual asylum law practitioners, pro bono attorneys, law professors and other experts in the field (including this humble blogger).