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Dear Editor:
The following press release was released by the Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service.

LIRS President Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr. calls for DHS to reverse its policy toward asylum seekers announced last week as part of Operation Liberty Shield. "LIRS is particularly concerned with the protection of vulnerable persons who come to the United States to seek freedom from persecution," says Deffenbaugh in a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Thomas Ridge. "LIRS writes to express its deepest concerns about the impact of Operation Liberty Shield upon vulnerable asylum seekers including torture survivors, women and children who will be ineligible for parole from detention under the new policy with limited exceptions." Operation Liberty Shield is a series of domestic security measures, one of which calls for the automatic detention of individuals seeking asylum in America from at least 30 countries thought to harbor terrorists. Only sketchy details of the new policy have been published and the list of the countries is classified. "Imposing a policy of detention of asylum seekers based on their national origin will only further harm innocent persons already traumatized and isolated from their families," Deffenbaugh says. "DHS can protect this country in a fair and non-discriminatory manner by ensuring an independent process for asylum seekers seeking parole." Under current law, immigration officers have discretion to detain or parole someone seeking asylum in America. Those who pose no threat are often paroled or released to stay with family or friends while their asylum case is processed, which can take more than a year. "While working to increase America's security, we hope that you will maintain our country's historic commitment to the protection of refugees," continues Deffenbaugh. "LIRS urges the Government to ensure transparency and accountability in the development of new immigration policies. This policy change should have been made through administrative rule-making procedures and should have been published as a new rule for public comment." Deffenbaugh sites specific concerns regarding the new policy including these: How will unaccompanied minors be treated?, What will be considered a "limited humanitarian exception"?, Will asylum seekers who meet the asylum parole criteria (i.e., pose no danger to the community, have community ties, establish their identity, etc.) still be detained? Will this policy apply retroactively to asylum seekers who arrived prior to the announcement of Operation Liberty Shield? "I ask Secretary Ridge to address our concerns in a written rule," says Deffenbaugh. "And I ask that he publicly identify the list of countries that will be used by DHS to detain asylum seekers. Keeping the policy secret and issuing only limited guidance about the scope of the policy causes widespread fear and confusion in immigrant communities that may actually lead to less security. " LIRS is a national agency that resettles refugees and advocates for fair and just treatment for asylum seekers. In a nation built by immigrants, LIRS has carried on the Lutheran and American tradition of welcoming newcomers since 1939 and strives to ensure that tradition continues.

Meg Arenberg, President's Office Assistant
Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service (LIRS)