Women Deserve Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) Photo: Wikipedia

All week long, we’ve been highlighting a push in the House of Representatives among the Democratic women. The latest comes from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) The focus of her letter focuses on the failings of our immigration system for asylum seekers, many of whom are women fleeing persecution at home.

Thank you, Rep. Lofgren for your exceptional leadership!


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Read the whole letter below:

Women Fleeing Persecution Need Protection, Not Detention

Dear Colleague:

Every year, women flee their home countries to avoid various forms of persecution, including forced marriage, genital mutilation, and severe domestic violence from which they are unable to obtain protection. They risk lengthy, perilous journeys to secure freedom and safety, yet many are re-victimized during their journey when they are vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence. The U.S. has an obligation under international law to receive these asylum seekers, and to provide them a full and fair opportunity to apply for protection. But due to shortcomings in our policies, women face obstacles at every stage of the asylum process. Tragically, many are wrongfully denied the opportunity to seek asylum and are instead sent back to countries where they fear for their lives.

Research conducted by the Women’s Refugee Commission has identified gaps in the screening and identification of women asylum seekers by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP officers often fail to screen women for asylum claims. Many are told that they do not have the right to apply for humanitarian protection in the United States. These failures of screening and identification are more likely to occur in cases where a claim is founded on gender-based violence.

Such practices can discourage women—many of whom have survived serious trauma and abuse—from seeking the protection they need.

Those women who make it past the screening stage are often held in detention facilities, sometimes for extended periods of time. At these facilities, women may not have access to appropriate medical and mental health care, legal representation, and other services they need to navigate our complex asylum process. And while detained, as a number of documented cases sadly attest, women remain vulnerable to abuse and sexual assault.

Women are also disproportionately affected by the arbitrary one-year filing deadline for asylum that was inserted into the law in 1996. Under this provision, asylum claims that are not filed within one year of a refugee’s arrival are normally barred. Studies show that women are significantly more likely than men to miss the filing deadline, mainly because they are more likely to have suffered sexual- and gender-based trauma that can carry extreme social stigma. Many women also come from cultures where women have few rights and are denied access to the educational and legal systems in their countries.

As we work to reform our immigration laws, it is important that we defend and improve our asylum system so that women who flee persecution are identified and can access the protections they need. We must also expand access to legal assistance and minimize the use of detention for asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants. The elimination of arbitrary provisions such as the one-year filing deadline should be included so that we can uphold our obligations to vulnerable women in desperate need of protection.

Please join me in calling for comprehensive immigration reform that improves the lives of all immigrant women, including asylum seekers and other survivors of persecution, torture and abuse.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren

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