From February 22 to 24, 74 students from 22 IRAP law school chapters came together (virtually) to advocate for the rights and protections of refugees and displaced people on Capitol Hill.
This year, IRAP student chapter members planned to focus on two issues, but real-world policy developments intervened and required that we also include a crucial third ask to respond to the Biden administration’s announcement of a new asylum ban.
For the first policy priority, student chapter members urged Congress to support and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. The Act was introduced previously in the 117th Congress and enjoyed bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. While the bill unfortunately did not pass the first time around, it is highly likely that a virtually identical bill will be introduced in the current Congress and we asked members to support its passage.
The chaotic withdrawal of the United States military from Afghanistan in August 2021 resulted in tens of thousands of U.S.-affiliated and at-risk Afghans seeking safety and entering the United States via parole authority under Operation Allies Welcome. While parole enables Afghans to remain in the United States temporarily, it does not provide a pathway to achieve permanent status. Had they been admitted through the U.S. resettlement program, rather than through the perilous evacuation from Kabul, thousands of these Afghans would have been eligible for processing through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. In addition, since virtually all who entered met the legal definition of a refugee, they would have been eligible to adjust to legal permanent resident status after one year. The Afghan Adjustment Act would give Afghans a pathway to achieve permanent status, while streamlining the process and getting rid of the uncertainty under parole. Without the passage of the Act, the United States will undoubtedly see tens of thousands of new asylum claims, placing additional strain on an already-overwhelmed asylum and immigration court system, as well as forcing Afghans to navigate the traumatizing asylum system. The Afghan Adjustment Act is the most effective and resourceful answer for both Afghans and the U.S. government.
For the second policy priority, students requested that Congress urge the Biden administration to establish an interagency working group on climate displacement. The current effects of climate displacement are staggering and only continue to grow. Environmental disasters internally displace three times the number of people who are displaced by conflict, and weather-related events forcibly displace an average of 20 million people every year. Moreover, between 2008-2021, 10.5 million people were internally displaced due to climate-related issues in the United States alone. In response to the urgent and increasing impacts of climate displacement, in October 2021, the White House Report on the Impact of Climate Change on Migration was released, which recommended the establishment of a standing interagency working group on climate change and migration. This proposed task force would coordinate the government’s efforts to prevent and address climate displacement. Over a year has passed since this recommendation, and the administration needs to implement this essential working group now.
Lastly, one day before the start of Advocacy Week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed an asylum ban that, if enacted, would bar many migrants from seeking asylum. If a migrant passed through other countries before coming to the United States to seek safety, and they did not first try to seek asylum in those countries, then they would be barred from the U.S. asylum system, with few exceptions. In the search for shelter, people were left with no choice but to seek refuge in countries that did not have competent protection systems in place before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border to enter the United States. A previous version of the ban that the Trump administration proposed was struck down in federal court, and the current proposed ban is open to public comment now through March 27. IRAP students quickly got up to speed on this proposed rule and urged Congressional offices to speak out against the ban and make it known that these people are entitled to apply for asylum.
Students from different IRAP chapters across the country came together to prepare and facilitate these meetings. It was a wonderful experience collaborating with other IRAP chapters and getting to know other passionate advocates for the human rights of refugees and displaced persons. Advocacy Week is a great reminder that there are so many people fighting for social justice and the IRAP community is larger than each individual chapter may feel.
Students felt anticipatory or perhaps nervous for their first meetings. Many calls were with Congressional offices that might not be aware of these issues or even doubtful of the necessity behind the Afghan Adjustment Act. However, meetings overall went quite smoothly, and staffers from both parties seemed interested in passing the Afghan Adjustment Act. Students detailed the secure vetting processes in place and made sure to share the importance of supporting those who vitally helped the United States. As the Act has not been reintroduced in Congress yet, some Congressional staffers iterated that they would need to read the bill first of course, but were highly intrigued. Many Congressional staffers explicitly said that their Congressperson already supported the urgent effort to pass the Act and would advocate for the bill’s passage. In regard to the interagency working group on climate displacement, some staffers noted that they were perhaps unsure of their Congressperson’s exact views on the matter, but were excited to share the proposal. As the news for the asylum ban was hot off the press, many staffers said their Congressperson was still gathering information themselves. For this point, it was particularly important for constituents in meetings to discuss how citizens in their districts and states believed in protecting the right to seek asylum. Many staffers listened closely to this message and were glad to relay the urgent call to action.
Overall, Advocacy Week was a wonderful opportunity for us to come together from across the country to advocate for the human rights of refugees and displaced persons. It was an honor to participate and many of us will continue working on these issues as proud members of IRAP student chapters.
Allison Baal is a 2L at Touro Law Center and is the Chapter Director of Touro’s IRAP Chapter. Allison is an Associate Editor of the Touro Law Review and is currently writing a Note on the negative effects of the recent anti-immigrant Supreme Court decision Patel v. Garland.
Grace Zipperer is a 2L at the University of Virginia School of Law and is the Chapter Director of UVA’s IRAP Chapter. Grace has worked in refugee camps in Greece and Croatia and spent her 1L Summer working with asylum seekers at the U.S-Mexico border.