05.19.10

Director Of Vermont Immigration And Asylum Advocates Testifies Before Leahy-Chaired Panel

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, May 19, 2010) – Vermont Patrick Giantonio, the Executive Director of Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates testified Wednesday morning before a panel chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.  Leahy is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration and refugee related issues.  Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates provides legal services to immigrants and asylum seekers.

Wednesday’s hearing, “Renewing America’s commitment to the Refugee Convention: The Refugee Protection Act of 2010,” focused on the Leahy-authored Refugee Protection Act (S. 3113), which was introduced in March.  The legislation would strengthen the country’s commitment to protecting refugees fleeing persecution or torture.  The bill will help to improve protections for refugees and asylum seekers with bona fide claims.  The proposed legislation addresses shortfalls in current law that place unnecessary and harmful barriers before refugees with legitimate asylum claims, making it more difficult for them to find safe harbor in the United States.  The introduction of the legislation commemorated the 30th anniversary of the historic Refugee Act of 1980. 

“It is time to renew America’s commitment to the Refugee Convention, and to bring our law back into compliance with the Convention’s promise of protection,” said Leahy at the hearing.  “Our Nation is a leader among the asylum-providing countries.  Our communities have embraced refugees and asylum seekers, welcoming them as Americans.  Our laws should reflect America’s humanitarian spirit. 

Giantonio is an accredited representative recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals as a person qualified to represent immigrants in federal immigration courts.  Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates, formerly known as Vermont Refugee Assistance, have provided legal assistance to thousands of detained and non-detailed immigrants and asylum seekers since 1993.

Also testifying at the hearing was Dan Glickman, the President of Refugees International, and Igor V. Timofeyev, a former senior advisor for refugee and asylum policy during the Bush administration.  An archived webcast is available online.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
Hearing On “Renewing America’s Commitment To The Refugee Convention:
The Refugee Protection Act Of 2010”
May 19, 2010

Earlier this year, we marked the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act.  In the years since that landmark legislation was enacted, the law has evolved in ways that place unnecessary and harmful barriers before genuine refugees and asylum seekers.  That is why I introduced the Refugee Protection Act of 2010, S.3113. It will bring the United States into compliance with the Refugee Convention, and will restore our Nation as a beacon of hope for those who suffer from persecution around the world.  I thank Senators Levin, Durbin, Akaka and Burris for joining as cosponsors. 

I supported the Refugee Act in the 96th Congress, and voted for it when it passed the Senate.  When the Senate debated the bill, Senator Ted Kennedy spoke of its dual goals -- to “welcome homeless refugees to our shores,” thereby embracing “one of the oldest and most important themes in our Nation’s history,” and to “give statutory meaning to our national commitment to human rights and humanitarian concerns.”  We lost Senator Kennedy last year, but we can honor his memory and one of America’s greatest traditions by carrying forward the mantle of refugee protection.

The Refugee Protection Act of 2010 corrects misinterpretations of law that limit access to safety in the United States for asylum seekers.  The legislation contains provisions from a bipartisan bill I introduced in the 106th and 107th Congresses to correct the harshest and most unnecessary elements of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.  That law had tragic consequences for asylum seekers.  Finally, our current proposal modifies the immigration statute to ensure that innocent persons with valid claims for protection are not unfairly barred from the United States by laws enacted after September 11, 2001, to prevent terrorists from manipulating our immigration system.  It corrects the law without diluting the bars to admission for dangerous terrorists and criminals.

In the years since the Refugee Act was enacted, over 2.6 million refugees and asylum seekers have been granted protection in the United States.  I am proud that my home state of Vermont has long assisted asylum applicants with their requests for protection and welcomed refugees through resettlement programs.  More than 5,300 refugees have been resettled in Vermont since 1989, from countries as diverse as Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia, and Vietnam.  One of our witnesses today is Patrick Giantonio, Executive Director of Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates.  He is one of the many Vermonters who devote countless hours to help victims of persecution win protection and build new lives in our state and our country.  We cannot thank you enough for your dedication to these exceptionally worthy individuals.     

I also welcome Dan Glickman, who was recently appointed the President of Refugees International.  I had the honor of working with Dan when he was a member of the House of Representatives, when he served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration, and more recently at the Motion Picture Association of America.  Dan has devoted years of his life to fighting hunger and advocating for underserved populations.  Now he is taking on a new challenge in protecting refugees around the world. 

Our third witness, Igor Timofeyev, served as the Special Adviser on Refugees and Asylees at the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration.  We welcome him, and look forward to hearing from all three witnesses on the key reforms to our refugee laws that are contained in the Refugee Protection Act.   

It is time to renew America’s commitment to the Refugee Convention, and to bring our law back into compliance with the Convention’s promise of protection.  Our Nation is a leader among the asylum-providing countries.  Our communities have embraced refugees and asylum seekers, welcoming them as Americans.  Our laws should reflect America’s humanitarian spirit. 

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