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Australia’s stance on asylum seekers is tragically unsympathetic and even worse, it is downright discompassionate and cruel. But to cast Australia as the lone country with such an outrageous immigration policy is disingenuous at best. Italy, the UK and the US all have far worse asylum seeker problems (and hence have far more stringent asylum seeker policies). Even liberal, liberal France with its liberte, egalite, fraternite has a pretty horrible record.

To put things in context, here’s an email I received from the ACLU:

Why is the U.S. locking up asylum-seekers?

Restore the U.S. as a beacon of hope

Balasundaram & Rotolo

Baskaran Balasundaram, shown here with ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Laura Rótolo, fled the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, only to be locked up for nearly two years by the Department of Homeland Security when he reached Boston.

The ACLU of Massachusetts helped to win his release earlier this month, but we must do more to help, instead of adding insult to injury.

Urge Congress to pass the Refugee Protection Act.

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Today Baskaran Balasundaram, an asylum-seeker from Sri Lanka, is settling into a new life in Boston—but getting to this point should never have been this hard.

After imprisonment and torture by both sides in his homeland’s bloody civil war, Balasundaram, a 27-year-old farmer, managed to escape to the United States. Unfortunately, however, when he arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport in July 2008, the Department of Homeland Security took him into custody.

That’s right—the country he came to for refuge locked him up for nearly two years. Despite being granted asylum in February 2009 by an immigration judge in Boston, who found that his account of torture and persecution were credible, Balasundaram remained in immigration detention until this month, when work by the ACLU of Massachusetts to win his release finally paid off. Learn more about the case.

It’s great that Balasundaram is finally out of detention, but he still faces legal hurdles on his asylum claim, and he is just one of the many people affected by outdated laws that prolong refugees’ ordeals instead of offering help to those who have been driven from their home country.

Urge Congress to pass the Refugee Protection Act (RPA) of 2010 and restore the U.S. as a beacon of hope.

Earlier this year, Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Carl Levin of Michigan introduced the RPA to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers with genuine claims are protected by the United States. The RPA would make changes to the law that would have helped Baskaran Balasundaram, such as:

  • updating legal definitions to ensure that innocent asylum seekers and refugees are not unfairly denied protection, while still ensuring that those with genuine ties to terrorist activity will be denied entry;
  • requiring changes in the immigration detention system to ensure asylum seekers have access to legal counsel, medical care, religious practice, and visits from family;
  • ensuring that asylum seekers are interviewed to determine the credibility of their claims;
  • eliminating the one-year waiting period for refugees and asylees to apply for a green card.

Historically, the United States has been a world leader in protecting and assisting refugees. The number of refugees around the world is increasing, however, and it’s time to update our laws to offer help, not to confront asylum seekers with new burdens and obstacles. Help pass the Refugee Protection Act today.

ACLU of Massachusetts

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