Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

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Success in Senate Committee for Immigration Bill

June 3, 2013

Two weeks ago, when the Senate Judiciary Committee was debating the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744), we asked for your help. Many of you responded powerfully to protect asylum seekers and torture survivors — and succeeded in urging the committee to reject harmful amendments to the bill!

UUSC supporters sent approximately 1,500 e-mails urging Senate Judiciary Committee members to keep provisions of the bill that would protect asylum seekers from unnecessary detention. We were also heartened to hear from UUSC supporters made calls to influential committee members. Thanks in part to your efforts, amendments proposed by Senators Grassley and Sessions that would make detention even more draconian were struck down, and the bill passed the committee with protections intact.

Andrea Black, executive director of the Detention Watch Network commented: “DWN is encouraged to see that the Senate Judiciary Committee upheld American values of due process and fairness by voting against harsh amendments introduced by Senators Grassley and Sessions. The provisions would have stripped important detention reforms the Gang of Eight wisely included in the bill.”

UUSC has worked with allies like Detention Watch Network and the Center for Victims of Torture to protect torture survivors and political asylees who are put into immigration detention when they enter the country requesting asylum. This new bill, which opens the possibility of the road to citizenship for 11 million people, offers real hope for the political asylees and torture survivors caught in immigration detention.

For people who have experienced and fled torture in their own country and come here seeking safety, their first experience under the current law might be getting apprehended by armed border agents and put into an “ice box,” a cold cell. Then they might be handcuffed and brought to a detention center. For torture survivors, this treatment is dramatically re-traumatizing. They often languish months in detention waiting for their “credible fear” interview with Immigration Enforcement — this is their chance to establish grounds for asylum. If they do not speak English, they can disappear into the system for months.

The new law as currently written would change much of that. It makes provisions for all detainees to get an interview within five days of detention — with a nongovernmental organization, not an immigration officer. It also explores community-based alternatives to detention, rather than locking people up in jails, and provides access to legal aid, which most detainees do not currently have.

The Immigration Modernization Act will face a tough struggle on the floor of the Senate in mid-June before it goes to an even tougher struggle in the House. UUs proved they could make a difference during the markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee when they helped protect the positive detention provisions. We need you to stand firm over the next few weeks and help this bill pass the Senate with those provisions intact. Stay tuned, because once the bill gets to the floor of the Senate, we will ask you to raise your voices again in defense of people unjustly caught in the detention system. Use your rights to help them make a case for theirs!

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