Posted by: Laura John | February 5, 2013

The land of the free

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Cruising down the Hudson River with the star spangled banner

Cruising down the Hudson River with the star spangled banner

Although it may have been overshadowed by the controversy of Beyoncé lip-synching the national anthem, last month’s presidential inauguration firmly placed reform of the immigration system on the political agenda.

In his second inauguration speech, President Obama reminded the American people that “our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.” It was the promise of comprehensive immigration reform, something which, although necessary, has eluded the U.S. Congress for years.

For my colleagues at Human Rights First, the prospect of immigration reform provides an opportunity to create a fair and just asylum system, more in line with the Refugee Convention. I’ve spent the last few weeks assisting the advocacy team to create materials highlighting some of the deficiencies in the current asylum system, in the hope that they can be alleviated within the context of immigration reform.

For example, we are lobbying for the one year from arrival filing deadline to be abolished. This deadline requires asylum seekers to lodge an asylum application within one year from their arrival in the United States. Although there are exceptions to this rule, where the refugee’s circumstances have changed or there are extraordinary circumstances, they are not sufficient to account for the many reasons why a refugee may delay in seeking asylum (language barriers, unfamiliarity with the asylum process, trauma – just to name a few).

An academic study conducted by Georgetown University and Temple University in 2010, found that between 1998 and 2009, more than 21,000 refugees who would have otherwise been granted asylum, were denied due to late filing. As documented by Human Rights First, these refugees include an Eritrean woman tortured and sexually assaulted due to her Christian religion, a Burmese student jailed for his pro-democracy activities, a Congolese nurse who was tortured due to her human rights advocacy and a Chinese woman tortured for assisting North Korean refugees. The asylum filing deadline erroneously assumes that these refugees do not genuinely fear persecution in their home countries – all because of an arbitrary time limit.

It is unclear at this early stage whether the recommendations suggested by my colleagues and other refugee advocates will be implemented, but the 113th Congress provides a valuable opportunity to reform the immigration system so that asylum seekers who flee to the United States in search of protection may indeed find themselves in the land of the free.

P.S. Check out this clip for Beyonce’s response to her critics. All power to you B!

Ellyse and I on the Brooklyn Bridge (make sure you check out her blogs too)

Ellyse and I on the Brooklyn Bridge (make sure you check out her blogs too)



  1. […] forms, rules and bars to asylum (such as the one-year-from-arrival filing deadline featured in this blog) is extremely difficult to navigate without the assistance of legal […]

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