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America’s new ID program: missing the terrorists, punishing the victims
By Wendy Young
Global Beat Syndicate
NEW YORK—The anti-immigrant REAL ID Act congress is considering is the latest example of how terrorism is being used to scare us into supporting a law that does nothing to protect the United States and harms the world’s most vulnerable people. The true targets of the REAL ID Act are not terrorists, but refugees. Hardest hit will be women and children—those who have come to the United States seeking safety and protection.
By drastically raising the bar for asylum claims, the bill will have life and death consequences for those fleeing rape, female genital mutilation, honor killings, forced marriages, sexual slavery, prostitution trafficking, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of age and gender related persecution.
Among its many outrageous provisions, the REAL ID Act, passed by the House in February, allows immigration judges to deny asylum based on unsworn but inconsistent statements from the refugees—even if those statements have nothing to do with the asylum-seeker’s claim.
Under this provision, an immigration judge could deny asylum to a woman fleeing abuse at home if she fails to tell her full story when she first arrives in the United States. For example, a woman who is raped by soldiers for her religious beliefs may be unable to tell a male airport inspector about the rape when she first arrives here, but may later tell the immigration judge. Although it is unrealistic to expect a woman or child to articulate such sensitive and often traumatic details of abuse immediately upon arrival, under the REAL ID Act, the immigration judge could deny her claim based on this perceived inconsistency. The new law will also allow her to be deported while her asylum appeal is pending in federal court.
The bill would also have an alarming impact on children’s asylum claims. Immigration judges will be allowed to deny asylum to children who fail to produce corroborating evidence that the judges, at their discretion, think the asylum-seeker should be able to produce. Judges can require this evidence even if the asylum seeker has already testified credibly. Children in particular are unlikely to be able to produce such evidence without significant legal assistance. But fewer than half of all child asylum-seekers are represented at all in court.
The REAL ID Act also stipulates that asylum seekers must prove the “central motivation” of their persecutor for harming them. This essentially penalizes a refugee who cannot prove what is going on in the mind of her persecutor. Most gender- and age-related claims are based on persecution by a private individual rather than by a government representative or agency, which makes it extremely difficult to prove that the perpetrator is motivated by the victim’s age or gender.
The Act also gives immigration officers or immigration judges complete authority to deny any asylum seeker’s claims based on their perception of the “appropriateness” of the asylum seeker’s “demeanor.” There are many documented cases of immigration judges being tremendously insensitivity when they interview asylum seekers. This arbitrary and subjective power to make such determinations completely discounts the complex psychological, social and cultural context of many women and children who seek asylum in America, including survivors of rape, forced abortions or similar abuses. Under this provision of REAL ID, a judge can rule against any survivor of abuse who seems lacking in emotion or has difficulty making eye contact.
The REAL ID Act will not protect us from terrorists. Instead, it threatens legitimate refugees, wastes money better spent on effective security programs and undermines our nation’s values. If congress enacts this bill, we will be relinquishing our strong international leadership role in the protection of refugee women and children and further walling ourselves off from a world that looks to us for protection. By turning away legitimate asylum seekers, we strengthen their persecutors.