Foreign Policy

The Keep Our Communities Safe Act has the wrong priorities

The situation that they face could get worse. The House of Representatives is currently considering H.R. 1932, the Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011, though the bill purports to promote public safety, it actually casts a much wider net, and asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons are among those caught in it. The bill would cut off vital due process and unfetter the government’s authority to hold these individuals and others, many of whom pose no flight risk or danger, in jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers, for months, years or even for life. The bill offers no meaningful way of challenging their detention before a judge and restricts the use of cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention.

{mosads}The United States has other options. Global research conducted by leading stakeholders in the field, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), point to alternatives to detention that are less costly and uphold the United States’ commitment to human rights. The surveys prove that alternative models, such as release on bond or to community-based support programs, would save the United States thousands of dollars per person. Rather than increasing the time and number of asylum seekers in detention, the United States should take the lead in expanding the use of innovative and cost effective policies.

Additionally, the Refugee Protection Act of 2011 offers a legislative alternative. This bill would enhance U.S. policy regarding the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons in accordance with international standards and is consistent with the United States’ tradition of welcoming the persecuted into its vibrant social fabric. This bill and similar legislative efforts embody the spirit of protection and inclusion – not punishment – that the U.S. represents and its communities reflect.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, one of the single most important international protection mechanisms. In commemoration, UNHCR has called upon all governments to reaffirm their commitment to protecting asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons. Given the powerful export value the United States’ conduct has internationally, the United States, a global leader in advancing human rights, should mark this commemorative year by continuing its leadership in ensuring the world’s most vulnerable persons find protection and safe haven by rejecting calls to do otherwise.

Vincent Cochetel is the Washington, D.C. regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


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