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BALTIMORE, October 18, 2011—As of October 1, 2011, more than 4,600 refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, and other humanitarian migrants who are elderly or disabled have been cut off from a critical form of support. Last night the Senate passed legislation that would once again provide them with security and hope as they seek their dream of becoming U.S. citizens. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) calls on the House of Representatives to pass the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act of 2011 (S. 1721), legislation championed by Senators Schumer (D-NY), Leahy (D-VT) and Gillibrand (D-NY), and immediately extend this vital lifeline.
In 1996 Congress passed welfare reform legislation which placed a time limit on the eligibility of refugees and humanitarian migrants who have not yet become U.S. citizens for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a modest monthly income for individuals who are elderly or disabled and have few resources. Since Congress has failed to extend SSI assistance to these vulnerable migrants by the September 30, 2011 deadline, an estimated 4,600 individuals have lost access to this assistance. This number grows by 250 individuals every month that Congress does not act.
“With bipartisan support, the Senate has declared that helping extremely vulnerable refugees and victims of persecution and human trafficking is a priority,” said Eric B. Sigmon, LIRS Director for Advocacy. “It’s now up to the House of Representatives to pass the bill. Each day that Congress stalls on the passage of an SSI extension, more and more vulnerable refugees and victims of trafficking – people whom the federal government has welcomed and determined needed safety and security – lose access to a vital lifeline that keeps them in their homes and on track to eventually gain citizenship.”
Refugees resettled to the United States face a unique set of challenges to integration and becoming U.S. citizens. These challenges are more significant for older refugees or refugees with physical or mental disabilities, as they have a heightened difficulty learning English, struggle to cover the costs of the citizenship application fee (often equivalent to one month’s SSI payment), and suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health issues.
Doug Johnson, president and CEO of Lutheran Services in Iowa, added, “The requirement for refugees to become U.S. citizens in order to continue receiving SSI assistance is a huge challenge. Many refugee seniors, like those in our elderly services classes, devote time and resources to prepare for the citizenship exam but have difficulty passing due to their age or past trauma they have suffered.”
LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.