- NEW YORK -- As it becomes
even more difficult for foreigners to enter a United States wary of terrorism,
several Jewish groups are urging immigration authorities to relax rules
for asylum seekers.
- A coalition of 15 Jewish groups is raising a red flag
about the practice of turning away asylum seekers who have used false documents.
They argue that refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries are
being denied the right to "due process" when they come to the
- The groups, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,
the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have identified
200 cases in which asylum seekers were arrested before their claims were
processed. In some cases, the refugees were carrying fake passports.
- For their part, immigration authorities say asylum seekers
are afforded due process - though it may be while they're already while
- Prosecuting asylum seekers in the United States poses
a complicated problem. Using fraudulent documents is illegal, yet many
refugees must use illegal means such as fake passports to escape dangerous
situations in their home countries.
- The plight of asylum seekers touches a particular nerve
in the Jewish community. During World War II, many Jews fleeing Nazi Germany
were saved by Raoul Wallenberg and others who provided them with forged
papers and passports to get out of Germany.
- "Jews have been refugees themselves. We understand
what this is about," said Amy Weiner, assistant legislative director
at the AJCommittee. "This issue of prosecuting asylum seekers just
because of false documents struck a nerve because during the Holocaust
Jews resorted to the use of false documents to get into this country."
- Today, she said, asylum seekers use false documents "not
out of disrespect, but because they are often fleeing torture, rape, persecution
and other dangers."
- Refugees in danger are not likely to approach government
officials and fill out the appropriate forms, said Gideon Aronoff, Washington
representative for HIAS.
- That would be like saying, "If you want to come
and get me and rape me and kill me, this is where I am," Aronoff said.
- In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and Tom
Ridge, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the coalition
of Jewish groups urged the U.S. government not to "compromise the
promise of freedom that our country represents to persecuted people around
- According to HIAS, the lead group behind the letter,
some U.S. federal attorneys who are prosecuting detained asylum seekers
are violating the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,
which the U.S. ratified.
- The convention requires countries to recognize that refugees
sometimes must use false documents, and not to penalize them for illegal
- Colombian refugee Olga Quintero, 38, is a case in point.
- Quintero arrived at Miami International Airport on Nov.
24, 2002, carrying a fake passport. Dangerous conditions had forced her
to flee Colombia, and U.S. officials agreed she was eligible to enter the
country as an asylum seeker.
- Quintero was granted parole in the United States until
her asylum hearing in March 2003. When she arrived for the hearing, however,
she was arrested at the Fort Lauderdale airport and, ultimately, thrown
in a maximum security federal prison. She subsequently missed her hearing,
and an order was issued in absentia for her deportation.
- Garrison Courtney, a spokesperson for Immigrations and
Customs Enforcement, says detaining asylum seekers is normal procedure
and that processing their claims is a "dual process" that takes
place while asylum seekers are detained.
- In response to the Jewish groups' letter, Courtney said
the Homeland Security Department is looking into other options to afford
due process to asylum seekers, including the possibility of using electronic
monitoring devices so that they wouldn't have to stay in detention centers.
- Advocates of more conservative policies say that despite
asylum seekers' unique circumstances, letting people into the country with
false documents is a potential threat to U.S. security.
- "People have been exploiting our immigration system,"
said John Keeley, a spokesman at the Center for Immigration Studies in
Washington. "That includes the humanitarian category of refugees and
- Some Islamic terrorists have entered the United States
by claiming they need asylum, he said. Even when refugees are in flight,
there must be a security component to all areas of entry to the United
States, Keeley said.
- "Post-Sept. 11, it's a different world," he
- So far, HIAS estimates that there have been 200 instances
where asylum seekers were arrested and turned away, mostly in Miami and
in the Washington area.
- In an effort to prevent more cases, Jewish groups decided
to appeal to federal officials, calling on them to grant hearings to refugees
before they are prosecuted for using false documents. They're not the first
to address the issue; federal officials also have been lobbied by non-Jewish
groups, including Amnesty International USA.
- "Groups signing on are not saying that people should
not be charged" for using false papers, Aronoff said. "But if
that person is seeking asylum, their asylum should not be put into jeopardy
by the timing of the decision to prosecute."
- This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic
- To read more, pick up a copy of the Jewish Times at one
of our newsstand locations.
- Charles J. Laudan
- Hello Jeff,
- I live in California and with all our convoluted politics
and illegal & undocumented alien issues including the latest state
bill to issue driver license to illegal aliens. Now reading the latest
article "Jews Want Open Doors For Refugees" on your site I am
left dumb founded!
- The US continues to be concerned about controlling "strangers"
coming in the front door but have no time or political stomach to deal
with the infiltration through our back door/s & side door/s. They are
wide open! We in the Southwest US live with this everyday. And once an
illegal is here "... oh well ..." & since you are here anyway
and you are working in low paying jobs its ok, "... here let me just
give you enough documents to make your stay more pleasant ...". I
have even heard news reports that when US Senate and Legistrators finally
responded to inquiries about these recent actions in California, the caller's
were told that it was a state issue not a federal issue?? Excuse me, illegal
aliens who come here by any route are potential security threats - period!!!
- I write my legislative representatives and get no response.
They sure have my address when they are looking for donations! When the
heck is someone in Washington DC going to get it?? Oh wait, soon it won't
matter because now there are two bills in congress that will help a non-US
born citizen become president. Ah, I see the big picture!!!
- The dis-assembly of our republic continues and it appears
no one has the political stomach or legislative might to stop it! It's
a darn good thing a few individuals drafting the Bill of Rights & the
US Constitution, 200+ years ago, had the courage to look beyond their own
personal & poltical needs, their own fears and in some cases were willing
to put their own lives on-the-line.