Thursday, February 10, 2005
SENSENBRENNER'S 'REAL I.D. ACT' AMENDMENTS 'ADD INSULT TO INJURY,' SAYS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, OPPOSING NEW TAKE ON CREDIBILITY, DEMEANOR
(Washington D.C.) – Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today strongly condemned U.S. House passage of Rep. Sensenbrenner's "Real I.D. Act" as a disturbing step toward dismantling the rights of asylum seekers. The human rights organization noted that an amendment that Sensenbrenner made to his own bill, just one day before it bypassed committees to go straight to the House floor for a vote, would make it even more difficult for refugees to find safe haven in the U.S.
In the latest version of the bill, Sensenbrenner strengthened language requiring credibility determinations based on "demeanor" and also mandated complete consistency in oral and written statements "made at any time and whether or not under oath." The revised amendment allows a judge to deny asylum based on any inconsistencies or inaccuracies, regardless of whether they go to the heart of a claim.
"As if the original bill wasn't offensive enough, Sensenbrenner's amendments add insult to injury, implying that all asylum seekers are dishonest, malevolent forces who want to take advantage of this country's good will," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of AIUSA. "It is patently unfair to punish refugees for reasons of culture, fear, desperation, confusion or trauma, which often render them reluctant or unable to tell their full stories immediately and in a manner that is consistent with a distinctly American style of communicating."
One addition to the bill, which stipulates lifting the cap on asylee adjustment, would improve the system by allowing more than the current 10,000 asylees a year to receive green cards. However, "the provision does not make up for the many detrimental provisions that would keep people from receiving asylum in the first place," said Susan Benesch, Refugee Advocate for AIUSA. "U.S. government officials should not be fooled by this one bone being thrown to asylees."
Amnesty International criticized the initial version of the bill for its stance on credibility determinations and demeanor, noting that they would have a particular impact on traumatized women and girls who find it difficult to tell their stories, such as accounts of rape, to strangers. The organization also voiced its opposition to the requirement that an asylum seeker prove that "a central reason" for his or her persecution was or would be his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.
Since the introduction of the bill last week, the organization has mobilized its 300,000 strong membership to write Congress and express opposition to "The Real I.D. Act." Numerous other organizations, including Human Rights First, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, as well as at least 43 nongovernmental organizations and 66 law professors also oppose the bill.
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