The Current State of Refugee-Related Legislation

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fence USACurrent Challenges to Refugee Resettlement

The last few weeks of intense scrutiny to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) are slowly being outpaced by calls for understanding, compassion, and welcome. As Lutherans, we open our hearts and stand ready to welcome those who are in need.

Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.” Psalm 12:5, NASB.

Thanksgiving week saw a number of events nationwide inviting refugees to break bread with their new communities. Across the United States, Lutherans continue to rise to the challenge to live out our faith as people of welcome. Yet, we cannot deny that fear has been an obstacle to life-saving relief for thousands of refugees in need.

At the state level, 31 Governors have called to halt resettlement of Syrians in their state. On the national level, some Members of Congress have introduced legislation that could shut down refugee resettlement to the United States. Many bills are aimed at refugees from Syria who are escaping the violence and tyranny of ISIS.

Fiscal Challenges

As Congress works to approve a budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (current funding expires December 16), LIRS is increasingly concerned that a harmful provision limiting the resettlement program might be included as part of any funding package. Over one hundred Members of Congress have urged that controversial measures impacting refugees not be attached to must-pass funding legislation.

President Obama announced that the United States would resettle 85,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2016, a small but significant increase from the 70,000 resettled in Fiscal Year 2015. The Fiscal Year 2016 resettlement goal includes 10,000 refugees fleeing Syria, however, an increase in refugee resettlement funding has not been allocated by Congress. Sufficient funding is critical to ensure local communities have the resources needed to help refugees thrive as they rebuild their lives.

Negative Legislation

Blocking resettlement for all Syrian and Iraqi refugees

  • The American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act: This bill would immediately end the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq and leave vulnerable refugees, including women and children fleeing ISIS, in extreme danger. Introduced by Representative McCaul (R-TX), this act passed the House of Representatives on November 18, 2015.

Prioritizing Christian and other religious minorities

  • Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act: Introduced by Representative McCaul (R-TX), this bill would place the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program on hold until Congress passes a joint resolution on refugee admissions numbers each year. Given the climate of gridlock, Congressional inaction or delay could have life or death consequences for refugees awaiting resettlement. This legislation also prioritizes religious minorities from Iraq and Syria for resettlement at the expense of Muslim refugees and individuals of other faiths.

Shutting down refugee resettlement

  • Resettlement Accountability National Security Act: Introduced by Representative Babin (R-TX), this bill would also shut down the USRAP until Congress passes a joint resolution that gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to resume admitting refugees. The bill also requires a study on how many refugees use public benefits, for how long, how many pay taxes in their first year in the U.S., and the various costs to public assistance programs. Rep. Babin also authored a letter calling on House Leadership to defund refugee resettlement in FY2016 appropriations legislation.

Syrian families and other refugees continue to look to the United States for solace and refuge. Our faith calls us to provide welcome to those in need. A refugee’s greatest hope, much like ours, is to create a home in a place of safety with the loving support of a community.

Join us in advocating that these laws are not representative of American values of welcome, refuge, and equality. Call your Governor or contact your Congressional Representative and U.S. Senators to express your support for continuing to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Sign up for our Stand for Welcome newsletter to receive updates on legislation, resources for advocacy, and action alerts. Read here for more detailed information on refugee-related legislation.

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