Congress Considers Waiving the One-Year Asylum Deadline for Indonesian Christians

by Jason Dzubow on May 9, 2012

in Asylum, Asylum Seekers

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Note to policy advocates: If you want Congress to pass a law helping immigrants, try to frame the law in a way that sticks it to the Muslims.  That is exactly what has been happening with a proposed bill (HR 3590) to help Indonesian Christians who were persecuted by Muslims in the late 1990′s. 

The bill would allow Indonesians who filed for asylum between 1997 and 2002, and whose cases were denied solely because they missed the one-year filing deadline, to reopen their cases and seek asylum (people seeking asylum in the U.S. are required to file their applications within one year of arriving here).  The bill has been pushed by advocates for Indonesian Christians, and there are currently 16 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, where Muslim-bashing is all the rage.

People of all faiths will celebrate if the one-year deadline is repealed.

First, it must be said that many Indonesian Christians were persecuted by Indonesian Muslims during the late 1990′s and early 2000′s (I have represented several such people myself). 

My problem with what Congress is doing is not that they are helping Indonesian Christians by essentially waiving the one-year filing requirement.  Rather, I do not see why other groups who have suffered equal or worse persecution in their countries should not be afforded the same benefit as the Indonesian Christians.  In other words, since it is clearly unfair and ineffective at preventing fraud (the purported purpose of the deadline), why not just eliminate the one-year filing deadline for everyone?  I previously discussed this idea here.

The reason–I believe–that HR 3590 has gotten some traction in Congress is because it protects Christians from Muslims, our current boogeymen.  This is the same reason why Congress passed various resolutions regarding Darfur but ignored a more severe genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is also the same type of reasoning that gave us the Cuban Adjustment Act–a law giving legal status to any Cuban who arrives in the United States even though country conditions in Cuba are not as bad as in other places.  In the case of the CAA, the driving force behind that law was our desire to stick it to the Commies.

I suppose all this represents an underlying tension in asylum law between using that law to further our foreign policy goals (what I would call realpolitik) and simply applying international humanitarian law in a neutral way.  This point deserves further attention, and I will come back to it in a future posting.  For now, I will say only that I hope HR 3590 becomes law; not because I think Indonesian Christians deserve better treatment than other asylum seekers, but because I hope it will be a step towards eliminating the nonsensical one-year filing deadline for all asylum seekers.

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