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

International Religious Freedom Report 2006
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 the Fiscal Year 2005, 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 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 course 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 information about IRFA as a part of the regular curriculum. In addition, a continual effort is made to include further discussion of religious persecution whenever possible in both the five-week course and in local asylum office training. The Asylum Division regularly updates its training materials and conducts training in local asylum offices to reflect any recently issued papers on religious persecution from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, or other organizations as well as any recent developments in case law or country conditions on this issue.

USCIS developed specialized training for refugee officers, the Refugee Application Adjudication Course (RAAC) as mandated by IRFA. When initially developed, the course consisted of two-weeks of intensive instruction in refugee law and overseas refugee processing procedures, paying special attention to religious persecution issues. USCIS officers responsible for adjudicating refugee applications were required to attend the course. 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.

More recently, with the creation of the Refugee Corps and hiring of full-time Headquarters staff dedicated to refugee adjudications in the fall of 2005, the refugee training was expanded to three weeks and the content was augmented. New refugee officers must successfully complete the Refugee Officer Training Course (ROTC) to conduct overseas refugee adjudications. The course consists of in-depth training on refugee law, and much of the material is drawn from the Asylum Officer Basic Training Course. This three-week training covers all grounds, including religion, on which a claim for refugee status may be based, and involves specialized training on international human rights law, non-adversarial interview techniques, and other relevant national and international refugee laws and principles. During the training, students receive specialized instruction on religious persecution issues. For example, as part of the last two sessions, members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (UCIRF) conducted presentations on IRFA. In addition, the training encourages further discussion of religious persecution whenever possible. USCIS has updated the primary lesson plan to reflect recent guidelines issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on religious persecution claims, as well as recent developments in refugee law. More than 30 officers have completed the training to date.

In addition to ROTC, 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.

The Resource Information Center (RIC) in the Asylum Division of the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate 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. This online internet guide includes links to government and non-government websites that contain information on religious persecution, as well as other issues relevant to asylum adjudications. 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

In the affirmative asylum context, applicants for asylum who cannot proceed with the asylum interview in English must provide their own interpreter. Prior to conducting any interpretation for the interview, the interpreter must take an oath to translate fully and accurately the proceedings of the asylum interview. The asylum officer may terminate the interview to be rescheduled at a later date if the interpreter is found to be misrepresenting the applicant's testimony, is incompetent, or otherwise displays improper conduct.

Starting in 2002, USCIS included specific anti-bias provisions in the interpreter 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. Asylum Officers report to the Asylum Division any concerns about the accuracy or neutrality of the interpretation, which in turn are raised to the management of the interpreter services company.

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.