Imagine you have just suffered abuse at the hands of a dictatorship, but have somehow managed to escape to the United States. Afraid you will be persecuted again, you apply for asylum status. You are sent to one of nineteen facilities—including six county jails—run by the Department of Homeland Security, which processes your claim.

The authorities sometimes handcuff you, though you have done no wrong. If the guards deem you a discipline problem, they'll put you in solitary confinement—so you keep quiet.

You have no money or connections to hire an attorney, so you argue your case alone. The immigration judge looks over your claims quickly, and next thing you know, you are being shipped back to your home country.

Sadly, this scenario is being repeated far too often, according to a report released in February by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Preeta D. Bansal of the USCIRF says there are "serious and systemic" problems with handling people with legitimate claims of asylum. These problems may lead to "the improper removal of refugees to countries where they may face persecution." For example, the study found that asylum seekers with attorneys are 11 times more likely to gain asylum than those without.

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. officials have made it harder and harder for refugees—whether political or religious—to gain asylum. In the late 1990s, the United States admitted 70,000 to 120,000 refugees each year, based on applicants' legitimately held fear of abuse if they returned to their home countries. But in fiscal year 2003, just 11,434 refugees received asylum.

Unfortunately, just days after the USCIRF report was released, the House of Representatives passed a bill ...

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April 2005

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