Lieberman Seeks Safe Haven, Human Treatment for Asylum Seekers Held in US Detention Facilities

WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said Thursday he would introduce legislation requiring the Department of Homeland Security to implement recommendations to provide a safe haven to and improve the treatment of asylum seekers being held in U.S. detention facilities.

The legislation, to be introduced by March, would require implementation of the most important recommendations made by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a 2005 report on mistreatment of detainees.

The Commission reported Thursday that DHS had made almost no progress toward implementing the recommendations. “The problems raised by the Commission’s report are contrary to our nation’s historic mission as a bastion for those fleeing persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality or political opinion,” Lieberman said.

“The follow-up report today shows the Department has done very little, in some cases nothing at all.” Citing Commission findings, Lieberman said that while asylum seekers are having their applications considered, “they are often detained for months in maximum-security prisons and jails without ever having a chance to appear before an immigration judge to request bail. They are often housed with convicted criminals; many are badly mistreated or arbitrarily punished – shackled, placed in solitary confinement, or denied basic medical needs…”

The Senator also noted that the Commission found that U.S. policies were exposing asylum seekers to “unacceptable risk of being returned to their home countries where they faced repression and worse. This kind of treatment of people trying to escape war, oppression, and torture is unacceptable in America.”

Lieberman said his legislation would closely track legislation – filed last year during the immigration debate – which would have required DHS to tape record all port of entry interviews between Customs and Border Protection officials and potential asylum seekers to ensure they are not returned to oppressive conditions without a fair hearing. The measure would also have required DHS to determine within 72 hours of an alien’s detention whether the alien was eligible for parole, and to have that determination reviewed by an immigration judge within two weeks. Further, the bill would have required DHS to develop or improve standards of detention conditions with regard to shackling, solitary confinement, access to legal counsel and medical care, and other harsh conditions that exist.

“We are a nation founded by refugees fleeing persecution,” Lieberman said. “The Puritans in my home state of Connecticut, the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, and the Quakers in Pennsylvania were all fleeing religious persecution. Today, Christians from China, political dissidents from Cuba, Kurds from the Middle East, and Darfurians facing genocide in Sudan seek the same sort of refuge…

“My legislation will call for sensible reforms that will safeguard the nation’s security, improve conditions in our immigration detention system, and ensure that people fleeing persecution are treated humanely, in accordance with international law and with this nation’s principles.” Lieberman was the chief Senate sponsor of 1998 legislation that created the Commission.