Appendix D: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)

International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Department of Homeland Security has assumed responsibilities formerly charged to the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the IRFA. The DHS is committed to ensuring that all claims for refugee and asylum protection are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity and that all mandates of IRFA for these programs are properly implemented. This appendix summarizes the Department's actions during FY2003, as required under Section 102 (b)(1)(E) of IRFA.

I. Training of Asylum Officers and Refugee Adjudicators

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides extensive training to Asylum Officers in order to prepare them to perform their duties of adjudicating asylum claims. The training covers all grounds on which an asylum claim may be based, including religion. Asylum Officers receive approximately five weeks of specialized training related to international human rights law, non-adversarial interview techniques, and other relevant national and international refugee laws and principles.[1] During the five-week training and in local asylum office training, USCIS provides Asylum Officers with specialized training on religious persecution issues. With the passage of IRFA in 1998, the five-week training program expanded to incorporate as a part of the regular curriculum information about IRFA. In addition, a continual effort is made to include further discussion of religious persecution whenever possible in both the five-week training and in local asylum office training. In addition to local asylum office trainings, the primary lesson plan has been updated to reflect newly issued documents by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on religious persecution as well as recent developments in caselaw.

USCIS also provides the Refugee Application Adjudication Course (RAAC). This training course is mandated by IRFA and consists of two-weeks of intensive instruction in refugee law and overseas refugee procedures. It is provided to USCIS officers who are responsible for adjudicating refugee applications. The refugee law portion of RAAC was largely adapted from the Asylum Officer Basic Training Course (AOBTC) and new modules were developed specifically for overseas refugee processing. The RAAC curriculum pays special attention to religious persecution issues.

In addition to RAAC, USCIS also provides preparatory training to officers who are embarking on short-term overseas refugee-related assignments. This training includes detailed information on religious topics that will be encountered on the overseas assignment. Nine sessions were conducted in FY2003.

The Resource Information Center (RIC) in the Asylum Division of the Office of Asylum and Refugee Affairs serves both Asylum Officers and Refugee Adjudicators, and is responsible for the collection and/or production and distribution of materials regarding human rights conditions around the world. The RIC has published an online guide to web research that is posted on the internal DHS website, the Intranet. An Intranet site was created with links to government and non-government websites that contain information on religious persecution. The RIC separately catalogues religious freedom periodicals and separately codes RIC responses to field queries that involve religious issues.

II. Guidelines for Addressing Hostile Biases

Starting in 2002, the CIS included specific anti-bias provisions in the language services contract used by Asylum Officers in the Asylum Pre-Screening Program. The contract and interpreter oath also include special provisions that ensure the security and confidentiality of the credible fear process.

[1] Asylum Officers are required to complete two five-week training courses, the Adjudication and Asylum Officer Basic Training Course (AAOBTC), and the Asylum Officer Basic Training Course (AOBTC). The AAOBTC covers the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and basic immigration law. The AOBTC includes international human rights law, asylum and refugee law, interviewing techniques, decision-making and decision-writing skills, effective country conditions research skills, and computer skills. In addition compulsory in-service training for all asylum officers is held weekly.