Inside the immigration bill: A reprieve for asylum-seekers

April 17, 2013

A bipartisan Senate group has agreed on a sweeping legislative proposal that would represent the most ambitious overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in three decades. The Washington Post will be examining portions of the bill on Post Politics in a series of blog entries.

Right now, those who come to the United States seeking asylum face a one-year deadline to apply for a visa. Under the Senate Gang of Eight's bill, that deadline would be completely lifted — a change that immigration and human-rights advocates are celebrating.

The deadline was originally imposed to prevent fraud, but advocates have long complained that it shuts many legitimate asylum-seekers out of the system. "People who are fleeing for their lives are not necessarily thinking what legal avenue you take or box you check," said Greg Chen, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The bill would also streamline the process for those declaring that they are seeking asylum when they first arrive to the U.S., make it easier for the spouses and children of asylum-seekers to gain admission and give the State Department more leeway to designate and move refugees. It would also allow certain "stateless individuals" to apply for a green card and increase the number of so-called U-visas for immigrant victims of certain crimes — a provision that had been taken out of the Violence Against Women Act bill that Congress passed this year.

In the bill's text, legislators say they are making such changes to make the refugee and asylum system more "efficient" — language that some immigration advocates are also using. "The Gang of Eight’s bill includes some key fixes to make our asylum system more efficient in the way it helps people fleeing political, religious and other persecution receive needed protection in the United States,” Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer said in a statement.

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