As a network of 37 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox communions and 33 refugee resettlement offices across the country, Church World Service strongly opposes H.R. 3573, The Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act. This bill, sponsored by Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX-10), would layer bureaucracy around the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program that would drastically reduce its ability to save lives and could even grind the program to a halt. H.R. 3573 would politicize refugee resettlement and leave thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people without access to protection. This bill would weaken the United States’ role as a world leader in refugee protection. CWS encourages all Members of Congress to reject this bill and to support the lifesaving work of the USRAP.
Background: The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
The USRAP is a public-private partnership that helps rescue refugees who have no other means of finding safety. 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. While less than one percent of the world’s estimated 19.5 million refugees are resettled to a third country, resettlement saves lives and also helps encourage other countries to provide durable solutions for refugees within their borders, including local integration.
Today, there are over 60 million people displaced people around the world, the highest number since World War II. The United States resettled less than 70,000 refugees this past fiscal year, a small number in proportion to the U.S. population that should be increased, especially given the global need. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced plans for the United States to resettle 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016 and 100,000 in fiscal year 2017. This increase is modest, and not without precedent. During World War II, the United States admitted more than 650,000 displaced Europeans, and following the fall of Saigon, annual resettlement numbers ranged from 100,000 to more than 200,000 throughout the 1980s.
The United States is one of 28 countries that resettles refugees. Each and every refugee resettled in the United States undergoes a series of thorough and meticulous security screenings, including multiple biographic and identity investigations; FBI biometric checks of fingerprints and photographs; in-depth, in-person interviews by specialized and well-trained Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings; and other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center and National Security Council. As a result, refugees are the most thoroughly screened people to travel into the United States.
U.S. communities, schools, congregations, and employers welcome refugees and help them integrate in their new homes. In turn, refugees contribute to their new communities with their innovative skills, dedicated work, and inspiring perseverance. Studies conducted on the economic impact of refugee resettlement show that once refugees have adjusted to their new lives after resettlement, they provide substantial contributions to the workforce and to local economic development. Many refugees are highly skilled and obtained high levels of education in their home countries. Additionally, refugees frequently begin successful business ventures after resettling in the United States and participate in civic engagement activities to give back to their new communities. With their entrepreneurship and purchasing power, refugees economically revitalize U.S. communities.
The Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act: Unnecessary Bureaucracy and Religious Discrimination
H.R. 3573 would place the entire USRAP on hold, or stop it altogether, if the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives could not pass a joint resolution on refugee resettlement every year. Currently, the Executive Branch holds an annual consultation with Congress about refugee protection and resettlement. Officials from the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services meet with members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to discuss populations in need of resettlement, current resources, and other topics of interest. Following this consultation, the U.S. Department of State announces the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for the upcoming fiscal year. Requiring congressional passage of a joint resolution would make the resettlement program vulnerable to partisan gridlock, as well as competing priorities for time on the Senate and House floors.
Congressional inaction or delay would literally have life or death consequences for refugees awaiting resettlement. The intensive and time-sensitive screening process would be stopped in its tracks, sending refugees who had been approved for travel into a domino-effect of expiring validity periods, re-interviews and duplicate screenings. Even a minor delay could send someone back to the beginning of the process, waiting another year or two to again have all of their screenings current in order to travel to the United States. The dream of finding safety and stability would be halted. Family separation would be perpetuated. People in harm’s way would continue to languish in camps and unsafe urban situations.
The legislation would also set the United States back generations by inserting religious discrimination into the refugee resettlement program. The bill’s language about prioritizing refugees who are members of a religious minority, specifically when considering refugees from Iraq and Syria, aims to prevent the resettlement of Muslim refugees. While many individuals who practice Christianity, Judaism and other minority religions face persecution in the Middle East, millions of Muslims do as well. CWS is strongly opposed to any legislation that would prioritize Christian refugees at the expense or rejection of Muslim refugees and individuals of other faiths.
The majority of ISIS’s victims have been Muslim, with ethnic minorities, LGBTI individuals and other vulnerable populations being particularly targeted. Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities have been and will continue to be resettled in the United States, as they should be. But they are no more “deserving” of life, safety and resettlement than individuals who practice Islam. As a nation, we are morally obligated to welcome vulnerable refugees, regardless of their religious affiliation. Religion is not the sole reason individuals face persecution: refugees also flee violence based on their ethnicity, nationality, political opinion and membership in a particular social group. Proposals that would have the U.S. State Department perform a religious litmus test to people fleeing persecution run counter to the very principles this nation was built upon.
As a part of the implementation of U.S. foreign policy, the USRAP has had bipartisan support since its early origins. As the world seeks to respond to the global leadership crisis, now is not the time to politicize or jeopardize this life-saving program that demonstrates the best of who we are as a nation. The Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act would undermine the United States’ strong tradition of welcoming refugees and prevent vulnerable individuals from receiving protection. CWS urges all members of Congress to oppose H.R. 3573 and to instead affirm support for the protection and resettlement of refugees around the world.