CWS Statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security pertaining to its hearing Immigration Benefits Vetting: Examining Critical Weaknesses in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Systems

March 16, 2017

As a 71-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox communions and 34 refugee resettlement offices across the country, Church World Service urges the Committee to affirm the importance of the current U.S. refugee resettlement program, which has the most robust national security and screening procedures in the world, and uphold robust protections for asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals fleeing persecution and violence. We know from sacred texts across faith traditions that nations will be judged by how they treat the most vulnerable: the widow, the orphan, the refugee, during trying times.

To be considered a refugee, individuals must prove that they have fled persecution due to their nationality, ethnicity, religion, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Refugees face three options: return to their home country, integrate in the country to which they first fled, or be resettled to a third country. For the millions who are unable to return home due to significant threats to their safety and rejection by the country to which they first fled, resettlement is the last resort. Resettlement saves lives and also helps encourage other countries to provide durable solutions for refugees within their borders, including local integration. While less than one percent of the world’s estimated 21+ million refugees – half of whom are children – are resettled to a third country, the United States is one of 28 countries that resettles refugees, prioritizing refugees who are especially vulnerable.

Security measures are intrinsic to the integrity of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which is the most difficult way to enter the country. All refugees undergo thorough and rigorous security screenings prior to arriving in the United States, including but not limited to multiple biographic and identity investigations; FBI biometric checks of applicants’ fingerprints and photographs; in-depth, in-person interviews by well-trained Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings; investigations by the National Counterterrorism Center; and other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies. Mandatory supervisory review of all decisions, random case assignment, forensic document testing, and interpreter monitoring are in place to maintain the security of the refugee resettlement program. Syrian refugees are also undergoing iris scans to confirm their identity, and must affirmatively prove that they are not affiliated with a terrorist group.[1] The Department of Homeland Security continually works to strengthen the security screening process, including the addition of new interagency checks in 2011 that now run constantly while a case is being considered. As a result, refugees are the most vetted individuals to travel to the United States. Refugees also undergo additional rounds of security reviews when they apply for lawful permanent residency after one year of arriving in the United States and when they apply for citizenship after five years.

Similarly, the United States has rigid national security procedures in place for asylum applicants in according with our obligations under international[2] and domestic[3] immigration laws. Asylum seekers in the United States include women, men, and children who are religious minorities persecuted for their beliefs; trafficked for commercial sex or forced labor; and human rights defenders who have worked against oppressive regimes around the world. Existing procedures are already in place to ensure the integrity of the U.S. asylum system, as well as important safeguards to prevent individuals from being returned into harm’s way. For example, arriving asylum seekers are subject to mandatory biographic and biometric checks reviewed against various federal databases by well-trained fraud detection officers. The United States has a tightly regulated asylum system that, despite backlogs and shortfalls in access to legal counsel, allows people fleeing persecution to have their cases heard and evaluated by immigration adjudicators. For example, Sami[4] fled Iraq and sought asylum in the United States because he was targeted by terrorists for supplying water to American service camps. He repeatedly received death threats, and on at least two occasions, extremists accosted his family, once breaking his son’s arm and leaving Sami unconscious in a remote part of the desert. They fled to the United States, presented themselves to Border Patrol agents, and were detained. Eventually, he and his family were granted asylum.

Economic studies show that all immigrants provide substantial contributions to the workforce and to local economic development. Several studies over the last century have affirmed that all immigrants, regardless of nationality or immigration status, are less likely than American citizens to commit violent crimes.[5] A recent report found a correlation between the increase in immigration and the sharp decline in violent and property crime rates.[6] Immigration is correlated with significantly higher employment growth and a decline in the unemployment rate.[7] Any congressional action should place humanitarian values at the center of U.S. immigration enforcement policies and uphold our obligations under international and U.S. law.

Today, it is paramount that the U.S. refugee resettlement program and asylum system remain true to their mission to protect the most vulnerable individuals who face persecution and violence. CWS calls on Congress to strengthen access to protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, all of whom contribute to their new communities with their innovative skills, dedicated work, and inspiring perseverance. Let us reflect the best of our nation by extending hospitality and leading by example so that other nations do the same.


[1] Dara Lind, “The US is so paranoid about Syrian refugees that it’s letting barely any in.” Vox. Nov. 16, 2015. < www.vox.com/explainers/2015/11/16/9745318/syrian-refugees-us-isis>.

[2] The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 3, 6 and 22. www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14. www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a14; United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on Territorial Asylum, 14 December 1967, A/RES/2312(XXII). www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f05a2c.html; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, A Framework for the Protection of Children www.unhcr.org/50f6cf0b9.html; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html.

[3] Immigration and Nationality Act § 208, 8 U.S.C. § 1157.

[4] Not his real name.

[5] Jason L. Riley, The Mythical Connection Between Immigrants and Crime, The Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mythical-connection-between-immigrants-and-crime-1436916798.

[6] Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, Rubén G. Rumbaut, The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, American Immigration Council (July 2015), http://immigrationpolicy.org/special-reports/criminalization-immigration-united-states.

[7] Jack Strauss & Hailong Qian, Immigrants or Jobs: Which Comes First to a Metro?, Jan. 23, 2014, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2339192.