Last week, I drove to Washington, D.C. with Amnesty International's chapter at Washington and Lee University for the organization's Virginia chapters to meet and collectively lobby House representatives for their support for the Refugee Protection Act of 2016. In light of Thanksgiving and our own history with refugees, the following information includes the basics of the bill.
The Refugee Protection Act of 2016 is currently waiting on voting by the House of Representatives. Its terms seek to enhance the protection and sustainability of refugee populations and asylum seekers.
1. Protects victims of terrorism from being mislabeled as terrorists
This includes revision of broad definitions of immigration to a) accurately prioritize victims of terrorist groups and b) continue denying entry to those with ties to terrorist groups.
2. Ensures accessibility of information, counsel and representation
The bill seeks to make the system more fundamentally fair through access to information and representation for immigration proceedings. It also seeks to appoint legal counsel for children, victims of violence and other vulnerable populations. Children and other vulnerable groups are ensured expedited proceedings instead of potentially harmful long term detention and children who seek asylum will be provided with an asylum officer for their initial interview in a non-adversarial setting.
3. Prevents the unnecessary and prolonged detention of asylum seeker
Currently, a one-year asylum filing deadline exists that unjustly bars relief for thousands in need of protection. Last week we were grouped with students from a Virginia high school that were refugees themselves and were forced to wait 8, 9, 12 years in their own war-stricken countries under dangerous circumstances before being allowed to seek refuge in the United States and start the actual process. The difference in the duration of the waiting period is largely based on region, such as a longer wait for countries with predominantly Muslim populations. This is unacceptable. Government authorities, detention centers and border security personnel would be held accountable through regular intergovernmental reports from individuals like the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
4. Creates a more effective follow-up system
The bill encourages NGO (non-governmental organizations) involvement in preserving refugee welfare throughout the accountability process.
If you are wanting to get more involved in the political progress, here's where you can start. Find your representative. Contact his or her office expressing your support for the bill and request that he or she does the same. We're a democratic republic for a reason. Let's make the most of it.