House Judiciary Committee
Markup of H.R. 2826: “The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2017”
June 14, 2017
By: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
LIRS Director for Advocacy
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) appreciates the opportunity to submit its views for today’s markup of the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2017 (H.R. 2826) as introduced by Congressman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). As Lutherans, we continue to meet conflict, war, and persecution with God’s love, knowing that our faith calls us to this vocation. It is in this spirit that we reject H.R. 2826, a bill that would negatively impact the lives of refugees around the world and drastically alter, if not destroy, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) as we know it.
We are an organization deeply committed to welcoming and serving refugees as they begin new lives in the United States. While we stand ready to work with this Committee towards the shared mission of continuing to improve the USRAP, while keeping America safe, we cannot support legislation that would drastically alter and dismantle the world class refugee resettlement program we have built, in partnership with the Federal government and communities across the country, over the last century. We know that the U.S. can continue to welcome refugees while maintaining a secure refugee resettlement program. We know this because that is what we have been doing for decades. We ask that the Committee stand alongside us in this work, not pass legislation that would endanger the very mission of welcome and protection we have stood for since our founding.
Strikingly, this bill restricts the resettlement program’s ability to save lives, which is the core goal of the work we do. Further, it will greatly decrease our diplomat’s ability to influence foreign policy and demonstrate United States leadership, and leave our allies, many of whom have taken on a disproportionate share of the burden, wondering if the United States can continue to be counted upon. It does this by removing the President’s authority to determine the level of refugees resettled in the United States each year and instead sets an arbitrary and needlessly low annual cap of 50,000 refugees, and creates an inflexible and cumbersome provision for addressing future displacement emergencies.
Our world faces a crisis of never before seen complexity and urgency. The number of forcibly displaced persons around the world exceeds 65 million, the largest number in recorded history, with over 25 million registered as refugees. The United States has long been a leader in protecting refugees and other vulnerable populations who are victims of persecution, violence, and war. In fact, at times of far less need, our country has done far more. For example, the United States easily resettled well over 200,000 refugees in 1980, the year the United States Refugee Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-212) created the modern refugee admissions and resettlement program we have today. The proposed provision in H.R. 2826 represents a deep and disturbing retreat from that U.S. leadership at the worst possible moment.
Of particular concern, this bill would prioritize religious minorities for refugee admission to the U.S. above all other protected grounds – race, nationality, political opinion and membership in a particular social group – the basis of the internationally recognized, and U.S. codified, definition of what it means to be a refugee. This is not what the refugee program stands for. We simply cannot place one protected ground above another. The Department of State already has a well-established system in place that prioritizes refugee applicants for interview based on the vulnerability of the refugee, their ties to the United States, and whether they are of special humanitarian concern to the United States.
The USRAP should and does continue to resettle the most vulnerable refugees. If religious minorities are put at the head of the line for resettlement, countless vulnerable women, children, and families would be overlooked and passed over, simply because of their faith. This is not what America stands for. As people of faith, we try to reach out the hand of compassion to all refugees who are fleeing life-threatening conditions, no matter their basis of persecution, their religion, or country of origin. We urge you to oppose any form of discrimination or religious preference when offering the life-saving opportunity of refugee protection and resettlement in the United States.
For refugees fortunate enough to make it to the safety of the United States, this bill would deeply undercut their ability to experience full safety, permanence, and begin their journey to start a new life. This bill would permit refugees to be placed under continual surveillance and, going further, mandate that they wait three years before becoming lawful permanent residents, thereby effecting their ability to fully integrate in their communities, access employment opportunities, and be reunified with family members. Such restrictions on liberty would impede any newcomer from embracing their new country, neighbors, and community.
Our history has shown the countless contributions that refugees bring when they are given the chance – from Nobel laureate Albert Einstein, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Restrictions such as those found within this bill could keep the next business or political leader, or simply a new neighbor contributing to the greater good of the community, from resettling to the safety and security of the United States. We urge the Committee to look to our shared history as Americans, and ask when similar restrictions as those found in this bill have resulted in a tangible benefit to the greater good. Restrictions that put up walls to integration, such as those found in this bill, will not improve national security and will only increase feelings of isolation and unwelcome that those at LIRS and our partners work so hard to dispel.
Finally, this bill would allow States and local governments to refuse to resettle refugees in their localities on a whim, fundamentally undercutting the essential ability of the Federal government to undertake humanitarian action through the USRAP, and abrogating Federal jurisdiction and responsibility to ensure consistent immigration and refugee policies throughout the country. Our agencies have built their refugee programs over decades, in strong partnership with the community along with the Federal and local governments. This poorly written provision could mean that even one person in a State or locality could stop an entire locality’s refugee program, supported by thousands of community members, in its tracks. Further, refugees – just like any other American – have freedom of movement within the United States, a bedrock principal of our nation. This provision could result in refugees being unable to resettle and live in the community where their family resides or where they have a job opportunity. This provision is dangerous to refugee’s integration, detrimental to the communities receiving them, and simply put, against what it means to be an American.
As people of faith, we are called by God to love sojourners as ourselves (Leviticus 19:33-34). LIRS urges the United States government to uphold its obligation to provide protection to individuals fleeing persecution in their homelands. Our nation has a long and proud history of living out the moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable newcomers and offer compassion and justice to all. LIRS is committed to ensuring that American policies and programs are just and protective of migrants and refugees. We ask that the Committee stand with us in this goal.
If you have any questions about this statement, please contact Javier Cuebas, LIRS Director for Advocacy at JCuebas@lirs.org or 202-626-7943.