WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.-8), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, have introduced the “Stateless Protection Act,” bicameral legislation establishing a new protected status, permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for stateless individuals residing in the United States. These vulnerable individuals do not have nationality or citizenship in any country of the world, a situation which often results in significant financial hardship, separation from relatives, and lengthy or sometimes even indefinite immigration detention.
Current estimates reveal that there are more than 200,000 individuals in the U.S. who are stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. While U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this year announced that his agency is developing a definition to identify stateless individuals, there currently is no definition to recognize this perilous status in immigration law or current regulations, making it even harder to identify stateless people.
“Stateless individuals fall outside of the protection of any country of the world through no fault of their own,” said Senator Cardin. “Our laws need to show our values as a nation of immigrants and should protect stateless people, providing them and their immediate families with the opportunity to become full citizens of the United States. I am proud to work with Congressman Raskin and with our advocacy partners to begin to truly address this hidden problem.”
“To be stateless is to live in a dreadful and dangerously vulnerable condition,” Rep. Jamie Raskin. “We should help stateless people by giving them a way to become citizens in our free and great country. America was created as an ‘asylum to humanity,’ as Tom Paine put it, to afford refuge to all the ‘persecuted lovers of freedom’ on earth. I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Cardin to give the prospect of citizenship and real rights to people hoping for the best but living without the protection of any government.”
Karina Ambartsoumian-Clough, Executive Director of United Stateless, said: “Stateless people like me want to contribute more to American life. But we’re stuck in limbo. This bill provides the path forward. I was too young to qualify for a passport when my parents left Soviet Ukraine with me, as a child. Now, years later, I have no country to return to. And I’m a citizen of nowhere through no fault of my own. There are thousands of people like me, and we are, together, building a movement to end the needless suffering of stateless people in the U.S. I applaud Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Jamie Raskin’s bill and expect it to achieve bipartisan support. All we are asking is to get on with our lives.”
“We commend Senator Cardin and Congressman Raskin for introducing bills to provide stateless people in the U.S. with pathways to permanent residency and citizenship, and we also thank our partners at United Stateless for their tireless advocacy,” said HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield. “A full year after the Department of Homeland Security publicly announced its commitment to adopt a definition of statelessness to enhance protections, more than 200,000 stateless individuals in the U.S. and their families are still waiting. As an organization rooted in the Jewish imperative of welcoming the stranger, and with over a century of experience helping people trapped in the legal limbo of statelessness, HIAS urges lawmakers in the Senate and the House to move swiftly to pass this crucial legislation.”
Text of S. 5330/H.R. 9671, the Stateless Protection Act, can be downloaded here.
- The bill establishes a new stateless protected status (SPS) to individuals who are stateless, defined as ‘individuals who are not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.’ Available to stateless people in the United States and their direct relatives, this status would provide access to work and travel authorization and protection from deportation, removal, or detention. The legislation would also provide discretion to stay any immigration proceedings for individuals with SPS. Some exclusions would apply to individuals who intentionally renounced citizenship or due to persecution of others or terrorism grounds.
- The bill instructs DHS to adjust the status of individuals with SPS to legal permanent residency (LPR) status for individuals who are not inadmissible under criminal or national security bars and who pass all standard background checks. After three years, an individual granted LPR status could apply for naturalization.
- To prevent the future occurrence of statelessness, the bill expands access to U.S. citizenship to individuals who would otherwise be stateless and who are children of U.S. citizens or are found in the U.S. before the age of 21. Also directs DHS and Department of State to carry out data-collection, research, programs, and grants to prevent future occurrence of statelessness.