WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday won Senate approval of an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 that would improve the nation’s treatment of asylum seekers – those who come to the country seeking refuge from persecution they have suffered in their home countries based on their race, religion, or political convictions.

The amendment was adopted by unanimous consent.

Offering the only amendment to the immigration bill that addressed the treatment of asylum seekers, Lieberman cited a Congressionally-mandated report in 2005 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which exposed Department of Homeland Security procedures that impair asylum seekers and poor treatment of detainees. Lieberman’s amendment would implement the report’s key recommendations to institute safeguards to correct faulty asylum procedures and improve conditions of detention.

“There are documented cases of serious abuses against asylum seekers here in the U.S.,” Lieberman said. “Often these refugees are fleeing from the most brutal dictatorships, where torture, jail and death are real fears. And when they come to America, longing to breathe free, they are treated like convicted criminals. We allow DHS to detain them in harsh prison conditions with no due process.”

Key provisions of the Lieberman amendment to S. 1348 call for:

Recording interviews with asylum seekers for quality assurance purposes and to establish an official record;

Providing accurate translation services so that aliens can understand their rights to request asylum;

Improving standards for detention conditions, including access to legal counsel and medical care, and requiring special standards for families of small children and victims of persecution and torture;

Implementing on a nationwide basis Legal Orientation Programs (LOP) to improve immigration detainees’ understanding of their legal claims;
Constructing secure facilities appropriate for families with children; and

Establishing an Office of Detention Oversight within the Department of Homeland Security to audit and investigate detention facilities’ compliance with standards and report to Congress;

“I want to emphasize that this bill will not have any effect on our policy of catch and release, and it would actually free up detention space for higher priority detainees,” Lieberman said. “We can address this serious challenge at very little expense, with no adverse effect on our nation’s security, and without impairing immigration enforcement operations.”

Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah, fled Communist Czechoslovakia with her parents in 1949, seeking asylum in the U.S.