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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)

International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Department of Homeland Security has assumed responsibilities formerly charged to the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the IRFA. The DHS is committed to ensuring that all claims for refugee and asylum protection are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity and that all mandates of IRFA for these programs are properly implemented. This appendix summarizes agency actions during FY2003, as required under Section 102 (b)(1)(E) of IRFA.

I. Training of Asylum Officers and Refugee Adjudicators

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) provides extensive training to Asylum Officers in order to prepare them to perform their duties of adjudicating asylum claims. The training covers all grounds on which an asylum claim may be based, including religion. Asylum Officers receive approximately five weeks of specialized training related to international human rights law, non-adversarial interview techniques, and other relevant national and international refugee laws and principles. During the five-week training and in local asylum office training, the CIS provides Asylum Officers with specialized training on religious persecution issues. With the passage of IRFA in 1998, the five-week training program expanded to incorporate as a part of the regular curriculum information about IRFA. In addition, a continual effort is made to include further discussion of religious persecution whenever possible in both the five-week training and in local asylum office training.

The CIS also provides Refugee Adjudicators with a specialized two-week training course in refugee law and overseas refugee procedures, as mandated by IRFA. The course was largely adapted from the Asylum Officer Basic Training Course (AOBTC), with some new modules developed specifically for overseas refugee processing. The training program pays special attention to religious persecution issues. Refugee trainings are conducted as needed.

The Resource Information Center (RIC) in the Asylum Division of the Office of Asylum and Refugee Affairs serves both Asylum Officers and Refugee Adjudicators, and is responsible for the collection and/or production and distribution of materials regarding human rights conditions around the world. The RIC has published an online guide to web research that is posted on the internal DHS website, the Intranet. An Intranet site was created with links to government and non-government websites that contain information on religious persecution. The RIC separately catalogues religious freedom periodicals and separately codes RIC responses to field queries that involve religious issues.

II. Training of Immigration Officers Performing Duties under Section 235 (b) of the INA (Expedited Removal)

Legacy INS produced a training video that is available to all DHS agencies addressing the need for sensitivity to persecution claims. This video has been incorporated into CIS trainings, as well as future trainings for CBP. The Office of Detention and Removal within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has distributed the video to its offices.

III. Guidelines for Addressing Hostile Biases

Starting in 2002, the CIS included specific anti-bias provisions in the language services contract used by Asylum Officers in the Asylum Pre-Screening Program. The contract and interpreter oath also include special provisions that ensure the security and confidentiality of the credible fear process. The CBP has issued comprehensive guidance on the use of interpreters and interpreter service to all inspections personnel. This guidance incorporates the anti-bias provisions of IRFA.

Released on December 18, 2003