Raskin, Cardin and Colleagues in Senate and House Reintroduce Bill to Protect Vulnerable “Citizens of Nowhere” in the United States

America has a fundamental responsibility to protect those in this country without citizenship or nationality in any country of the world, through no fault of their own

March 21, 2024

WASHINGTON – Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.-8) and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wednesday reintroduced 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. In addition to Raskin and Cardin, leading the bill introduction are Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, and Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.-11), of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Stateless persons are vulnerable individuals living in the United States who do not have nationality or citizenship in any country of the world. This circumstance typically is created by events well outside of any individual’s control. This non-status can result in significant financial hardship, separation from relatives, and lengthy or sometimes even indefinite immigration detention. 

“Navigating daily life without the fundamental protection of government is a perilous reality for the thousands of stateless people living in America today,” said Congressman Raskin. “Our Stateless Protection Act helps realize America’s promise as an ‘asylum to humanity,’ as Tom Paine put it, establishing legal protections, permanent residency status and a pathway to citizenship for eligible stateless individuals living in the United States. I’m grateful to Congressman Connolly, Senators Cardin, Durbin, and Padilla, and our House cosponsors for partnering with me to ensure these vulnerable people and their families aren’t left in the margins of the world.”

“We have a responsibility to help those individuals and their family who are left with nowhere to go through no fault of their own,” said Senator Cardin. “Our laws need to reflect our values as a nation of immigrants and we 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, Senators Durbin and Padilla, all our congressional cosponsors, and with our advocacy partners to truly address this hidden problem.”

“More than 200,000 individuals present in the United States are either stateless or at risk of statelessness,” said Senator Durbin.  “Stateless individuals, including many Rohingya, Kurds, and Roma, are not considered a national by any State and have often been rejected by their countries of birth or heritage due to discrimination.  I’m thankful for my colleagues, Senator Cardin and Congressman Raskin, for leading this effort to provide a solution for this uniquely vulnerable group of individuals.”

“This bill is a long-overdue protection for the small population of stateless individuals in the United States who, through no fault of their own, have no nationality,” said Senator Padilla. “This bill would give these people more certainty about their futures by providing them with a pathway to permanent status, and at last, a country they can call home.”  

“When my constituent, Dr. Siavash Sobhani, recently tried to apply for a new passport, he was told he was wrongly granted citizenship as an infant and was no longer considered an American citizen. He was stateless,” said Congressman Connolly. “Fortunately, my office intervened, and he now lives with the security of protected status. But far too many people in America are stateless, perhaps the most severe form of limbo imaginable for any human being. I am proud to join so many of my colleagues in introducing legislation that would offer protected status to stateless individuals in America and ensure we develop a strategy to prevent the horror that Dr. Sobhani and so many others have experienced.” 

This legislation is endorsed by United Stateless, as well as the National Immigration Project, Immigration Hub, Human Rights First, Church World Service (CWS), International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA), Adoptee Rights Law Center, Oxfam America, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Public Law Center, the Westchester Jewish Coalition, Refugee Congress and the Refugee Advocacy Lab.

Karina Ambartsoumian-Clough, Executive Director of United Stateless, said: “Stateless people are stuck in legal limbo in America through no fault of our own. We are veterans, holocaust survivors, business owners, and more. This legislation means true stability, dignity, and humanity for more than 200,000 stateless people who live in our communities. Only Congress can provide stateless people with access to permanent legal status. We urge Congress to move this legislation forward. We want to get on with our lives and we salute the leadership of Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Jamie Raskin in helping us to do it."

The Center for Migration Studies estimates there are approximately 218,000 individuals in the U.S. who are stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. In August 2023, the Department of Homeland Security released new guidance to assist stateless individuals present in the United States to more easily obtain identification, work authorization, and other benefits. While this is an important first step, Congress must take action to provide a comprehensive, long-term solution. There currently is no definition to recognize this perilous status in immigration law or current regulations, making it even harder to identify stateless people.

Text of the Stateless Protection Act, can be downloaded here. A section-by-section breakdown can be found here. The bill also is cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.-20), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.-7), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-12), James McGovern (D-Mass.-2), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.-3), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.-9), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.-30), and David Trone (D-Md.-6).

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.