As a 70-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions and 33 refugee resettlement offices across the United States, Church World Service (CWS) applauds the re-introduction of The Refugee Protection Act, and urges all members of Congress to cosponsor the bill. Refugee resettlement is a longstanding, life-saving American tradition that welcomes refugees who bring their innovative skills, diverse cultures, and dedicated work ethic to their new communities, improving quality of life for all. In the midst of today’s global refugee crisis, now is the time to renew this commitment by enacting legislation that reforms the program to meet the needs of today’s refugees and the communities that welcome them.
Thirty-six years ago, the U.S. Congress enacted The Refugee Act of 1980, landmark legislation that created the refugee resettlement program and instituted how the United States provides protection and a new life to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. This legislation embodied provisions that, at the time, were novel and created a program to meet the needs of refugees. Over the past three decades, we as a country have grown in our understanding of the protection and assistance needs of refugees, and the program now admits refugees from diverse geographic, economic and educational backgrounds. The U.S. refugee resettlement program needs to adapt to effectively respond to the changing circumstances of refugees around the world.
The Refugee Protection Act would significantly improve the refugee resettlement program and protections of refugee families. It calls for improved family reunification processes, annual updates of the reception and placement grant, steps to modernize the system for allocating refugee resettlement funds to states welcoming refugees, and increased protections for refugees identified at sea. The bill would better protect victims of terrorism by ensuring they are not considered terrorists themselves. It would also require data collection by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on refugees’ needs and ways to better meet them after they are resettled in the United States. Together, these provisions would improve the delivery of services and help refugees more fully participate and integrate in their new communities.
This legislation would also substantially improve the treatment of asylum seekers and make asylum case processing more timely and efficient. It would increase protections for asylum seekers by eliminating the requirement that asylum claims must be filed within one year of arrival. The bill would require training for federal immigration enforcement officers on screening, identifying, and addressing vulnerable populations, such as children, victims of crime and human trafficking, and individuals fleeing persecution or torture. It would also reform the immigration detention system to ensure access to counsel, medical care, religious practice, and visits from family.
The Refugee Protection Act would strengthen protections for children such that all children in HHS custody are properly screened for protection needs. It would also ensure that children, in addition to individuals with disabilities and survivors of abuse, torture, and violence, have legal representation, so that they can fully present their protection case in court. The bill would also create a case management pilot project to increase court appearance rates and would ensure that legal orientation programs are available to all detained immigrants.
As we all seek ways to meaningfully respond to global refugee crises, CWS urges all members of Congress to cosponsor The Refugee Protection Act of 2016. With refugees, local resettlement communities, non-profit organizations, and the U.S. government working together, we can provide protection, foster integration, and strengthen the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Let us reflect the best of our nation by extending hospitality and leading by example so that other nations do the same.