American Jewish Committee (AJC) today called on U.S. federal agencies to ensure that any changes to the U.S. asylum system respect the universal right to seek asylum and the prohibition on returning people to places where they face persecution or torture.  

An official comment by AJC and its Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights calls on U.S. agencies to withdraw a sweeping set of changes they have proposed to implement to the U.S. asylum system. The U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) proposals, entitled “Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review,” are open for public comment until July 15.

AJC’s comment expresses opposition to a number of the agencies’ proposals that appear to contradict important international obligations that the U.S. has voluntarily assumed and that AJC has long championed.

Several of the proposed changes would alter the definition of key legal terms to bar asylum claims made by people fleeing criminal gangs and gender-based violence, contradicting guidance on who can qualify as a refugee pursuant to the Refugee Convention issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Another proposal would discourage the granting of asylum claims from anyone who transited through another country on their way to the U.S., without any regard to whether they would have faced persecution or torture in the countries through which they traveled, again contradicting UNHCR.

Others would change the asylum determination process in ways that would deny applicants a “fair” proceeding, as defined by UNHCR. The proposed regulations would also bar claims for protection from people fleeing a risk of torture by a “rogue official,” though the UN Committee Against Torture’s interpretation of the definition of torture recognizes no such distinction.

As noted in its comment, “AJC is deeply concerned that the proposed regulations would effectively deny many people fleeing for their lives and livelihoods their right to seek asylum and would put them at risk of being returned or expelled to countries where they face a substantial risk of persecution, torture, or other serious harm.”  AJC also expressed concern that the federal agencies did not consider alternative ways to accomplish their policy aims, such as providing clarification for adjudicators and increasing efficiency and consistency in the handling of asylum claims in ways that would not have given rise to such a serious risk of harming asylum-seekers.

Since its founding in 1906, AJC has been a consistent voice for a fair, non-discriminatory, and generous U.S. refugee and immigration policy. Today’s action reiterates our call for all those coming to the U.S. seeking refuge to be shown compassion and given a fair hearing, and for policies governing the treatment of asylum-seekers to respect  international obligations that the U.S. has freely assumed and that AJC has long championed as reflecting American core values.

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