Thursday June 27th, the United States Senate successfully passed s.744, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, out of the Senate with a vote of 68-32.The final bill is over 1,200 pages and secured the support of 14 Republicans in addition to the support of all 54 Democratic members of the Senate. Human Rights Initiative has been following the bill’s development for months and is very pleased to see that many important protections for our clients that were added by the Judiciary Committee were retained within the final version of the bill. The bill by and large remained consistent with the bill introduced by the Gang of Eight, which included Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Robert Menendez and Michael Bennet and Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Jeff Flake. HRI commends the Senate for their dedication to passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill and calls on the House to seriously take up the issue of immigration reform during the current session.
One significant victory for immigration advocates with is the successful removal of the one year filing deadline for asylum applicants. Asylum seekers are subject to a one-year filing deadline that started upon their arrival into the United States, with relief available for individuals who miss the deadline only in limited circumstances. Removing the one-year filing deadline will positively impact all asylum seekers as many miss the deadline because they are suffering from PTSD, experience significant shame associated with their persecution, or come from a country were reporting persecution to the authorities is futile and possibly dangerous. Additionally, the elimination of the deadline will drastically reduce the work required by the immigration court to adjudicate asylum claims, as a significant amount of time and resources may be spent litigating whether the applicant qualifies for an exception to the one-year filing deadline or is barred completely by a late application. HRI appreciates all the advocacy work that organizations have done to highlight the harsh and unnecessary consequences of the one year filing deadline.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill as passed by the Senate includes several other positive provisions for asylum seekers. The bill updates the category of family members who may apply for derivative asylum status by including the children of the refugee or asylee’s spouse or children, expands the capacity of asylum officers to grant asylum, and finally, decouples the asylum clock used by USCIS from the court metrics clock used by EOIR. Yet despite these positive changes, the bill retained two restrictive provisions added by the Committee. These provisions dictate that asylum seekers must comply with national security checks before their applications may be granted and that asylees will have their status terminated if they return to their country of origin after being granted status in the US.
In addition to the asylum and refugee provisions within the bill, the Senate bill greatly increases protections for vulnerable populations in the immigration system, namely children and victims of domestic/sexual violence or violent crime. The bill introduces several positive change for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking by increasing the number of available U-visas from 10,000 to 18,000 per year, awards work authorization for individuals who have pending VAWA, U and T visa applicants, and expands the list of qualifying crimes for the U-visa to include serious workplace violations and elder abuse. The immigration bill also provides access to federal housing assistance for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, requires DHS to initiate confidentiality procedures to protect the information of victims contained in E-Verify database, and creates a new form of relief for “abused derivate aliens” for blue card and other specific nonimmigrant visa holders. As HRI represents individuals in both VAWA and U-visa cases, HRI is very pleased to see that the Senate bill incorporates new protections for victims of domestic violence and that our clients will be eligible for work authorization while they awaiting adjudication on their applicants.
Finally, another important goal for immigration advocates with the new bill was to address the lack of protections for children who are navigated the immigration system. The Senate’s version of the bill requires unaccompanied children (and those with severe mental disabilities) to have access to counsel in deportation proceedings at the government’s expense, converts children of LPRs into immediate relatives, includes age out protections for children on certain visa applicants, bars ICE from placing children in solitary confinement, and provides a shortened timeline for successful DREAMERS to adjust their status. The bill introduces new regulations to address trafficking in children, which include new training requirements for CBP on trafficking and the transfer of all unaccompanied children from DHS to ORR custody within 72 hours. Finally, Comprehensive Immigration Reform contains the HELP Separated Children Act, which creates new regulations directing DHS to allow detained primary caretakers to make arrangements for child care and to notify child welfare agencies if the parent is unable to find childcare. The bill also requires DHS to allow parents to visit with their children while in detention. HRI regularly represents children in detention proceedings who are applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and thus supports all efforts by the Senate to include new protections for such a highly vulnerable population within the immigration system.
For an overview of all the provisions of the immigration bill, see the National Immigration Law Center’s webpage. For more information on one year filing bar and how it impacts asylum seekers, particularly female asylum seekers, see the Op-Ed published by Elisa Massimino, Human Rights First’s President & CEO, For more information on how the new regulations impact immigrant children, see First Focus, Campaign for Children’s analysis of the bill.
Written by Katie Klein, Legal Intern at HRI, Penn State Law, Class of 2014.