United States Supreme Court, Drop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 102 (1958)
Eric P. Schwartz, Former Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State (2011)
Sean Woodyatt, Associate Executive Director, Pathways (2018)
Stateless persons are individuals who are without the recognition or protection of any country. Without the protection of citizenship or nationality, stateless individuals are highly vulnerable to discrimination and abuse and are often denied essential human rights by the State in which they live. As a result, many stateless individuals living in the shadows to minimize their risk of exposure to harsh treatment and potential expulsion. This “shadow” existence of many stateless individuals greatly impedes the ability to develop a full picture of statelessness in the United States and to make a precise determination of the number of stateless individuals in the United States today.
Stateless persons who have not been identified by the U.S. immigration system live in the shadows without any means to support themselves lawfully and in constant fear of exposure. Because they have no country of nationality, there is generally nowhere for them to “return”. These individuals are left with no alternative but to remain in the United States without any official status or protection, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and poverty. Without travel or identity documents, travel within the United States is complicated and travel outside the United States is next to impossible—which often means they must live forever apart from family and loved ones.
Stateless persons who have gone through the U.S. immigration system and have a final order of removal issued against them experience particular protection concerns. Among these are extended periods of detention and the imposition of restrictions—“orders of supervision”—as a condition of release. Orders of supervision typically require regular in-person reporting to government authorities—ranging anywhere from once a week to once a year—and limit the geographic areas within the United States to which the individual may travel without explicit permission. An order of supervision may grant a stateless individual permission to work, but must be renewed annually, requires paying a fee of several hundred dollars for each request or renewal, and, because of delays in processing time, can lead to gaps in authorized employment. Because these individuals have no path to lawful status and cannot leave the United States, they may well be subject to such restrictions for the rest of their lives. Neither the individuals themselves nor the U.S. Government is able to establish their right to return to any other country—for the simple reason that no state will allow them to enter.
We invite all stateless persons, their families, and friends, and anyone who supports rights for the stateless persons to join us and our efforts to end statelessness in the United States.
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Our Purpose and Goal
Project Stateless is a program of Economic Social Legal Pathways, Inc. (Pathways) with a purpose of promoting the United Nations' 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and thus raising statelessness awareness in the United States and help the United States accede to either of these Conventions. The jus soli nationality regime in the U.S. is a strong, albeit imperfect, protection against the creation of statelessness, and brings the United States largely into alignment with international standards on the prevention of statelessness. Nonetheless, the laws and policies of the United States fall far short of providing protection, rights, and liberties for those stateless individuals residing in the country.
Project Stateless and a number of U.S. Government officials agree that the only adequate and lasting solution for stateless persons in the United States is to add a section to the law to address their particular situation. Such a solution was proposed in the Refugee Protection Act, introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2010 and again in 2011, which contained a section that addressed some of the key concerns regarding statelessness in the United States. Significantly, this Act contained a provision that would have established a process for determining whether an individual is stateless and, if so, a path for eligible stateless individuals to seek lawful permanent residence and ultimately U.S. citizenship. The U.S. Government worked with Congress to refine the statelessness provisions included in the RPA and, consistent with the U.S. commitments made in 2011, has since engaged in outreach to Congress on the possibility of advancing legislation of this sort. Unfortunately, these provisions have not yet become law.
Project Stateless advocates administrative policy changes that could improve the quality of life of stateless individuals in the United States would include routinely providing work authorization, refraining from detaining them when it is clear that there is no country that will accept them, and limiting the in-person reporting requirements.
Project Stateless makes recommendations to aid policymakers and legislators in implementing administrative and legislative changes to improve the lives of stateless persons who already reside in the United States so that they are able to participate as full members of society.
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