Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Social Justice have this week slammed the US government for denying asylum seekers the right to work and governmental assistance.
The two organisations’ report – a 56-page report – “At Least Let Them Work: The Denial of Work Authorization and Assistance for Asylum Seekers in the United States” documents the hardships faced by asylum seekers, many of whom suffered terrible abuses in their home countries, as a consequence of being denied work authorisation.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) should be amended to remove the bar to employment for asylum seekers with non-frivolous claims, the groups said.
“The US government leaves many asylum seekers little choice other than begging or working illegally to survive,” Bill Frelick, HRW director of the refugee programme, said.
“The work and aid restrictions imposed on asylum seekers, apparently to discourage frivolous applications, harm and degrade the very people who most need support and protection.”
US immigration law prohibits asylum seekers from working legally for 150 days after filing their applications – plus an additional 30 days to process the application – unless they are granted asylum before that time is up.
The clock that counts those days is stopped any time the government determines that the applicant has delayed the proceedings. In practice, though, it is unclear precisely what stops and restarts the clock.
The problem has affected almost all asylum seekers. In 2011, the clock had stopped at some point for 262 025 people – 92% of all pending cases – according to the federal Executive Office of Immigration Review.
Once the clock stops, so does the opportunity to apply for work authorisation, leaving too many asylum seekers without any means to sustain themselves for many months or years.
Asylum seekers are also ineligible to receive nearly any type of government benefit while awaiting a decision on their cases.
Khaled M, an asylum seeker from Egypt, said he was unable to work or receive public assistance for his family for nearly five years. They struggled to find food and shelter.
There were nights when the family had to sleep in a bus station or airport. During the hottest week of one summer, Khaled, his wife, and two small children were evicted and found themselves on the streets without shelter or food.
Josiane F, a 27-year-old rape survivor from Rwanda, said that not being able to work year after year ‘kills you emotionally’. “Just sitting on your own, one year, two years, three years, five, doing nothing, just sitting there, kills you. I was so depressed,” she said.
(Issued by Human Rights Watch, Pic of Statue of Liberty by Reuters/hrw.org)