June 22, 2018
Van Hollen, Durbin Lead Letter Calling Attention to Trump Administration’s Slashing of Refugee Admissions
Today U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen joined by 31 Senators expressing their serious concerns about the severe drop in refugee admissions into the United States. Wednesday marked World Refugee Day, which is an international effort to raise awareness of the situation of refugees. This Administration has demonstrated an unprecedented hostility to those seeking safety in the United States. This hostility has been on full display in recent weeks as the crisis at our border inflicted by the Administration continues.
The Senators write, “We urge the Administration to make every effort to increase the rate of refugee admissions to meet the number established by the presidential determination for FY18. We are in the midst of the largest refugee crisis in modern history with nearly 22.5 million refugees worldwide, over half of whom are children. Refugee resettlement is only available to the most vulnerable – less than one percent of all refugees – when safe return or local integration is not feasible.”
The Senators point to specific concerns, noting that, “[d]espite the record-breaking level of displacement worldwide, the United States has admitted just 14,331 refugees in the first eight months of this fiscal year” and adding, “Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to the U.S. They do not arrive in the U.S. without first clearing extensive biometric, biographic, intelligence, medical, and law enforcement checks, involving multiple agencies.”
The Senators ask Secretaries Pompeo and Nielsen to answer a number of questions surrounding refugee resettlement including how many refugees the U.S. expects to resettle during the remainder of the year and what steps the Administration is taking to increase refugee resettlement.
This letter comes after Senator Van Hollen secured bipartisan support for an amendment on refugee admission and resettlement, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), as part of the Fiscal Year 2019 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act. The amendment requires the administration to report to Congress on the causes for the steep decline in refugee admissions, including intentional delays in vetting and reassignments of Refugee Corps officers to other positions. By mandating greater transparency and oversight of the refugee admissions process, this amendment helps make sure the United States remains a leader in welcoming those seeking safety from war and persecution.
In addition to Senators Van Hollen and Durbin the letter was signed by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Bernard Sanders (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Angus King (I-Maine).
The text of the letter is available here and below.
Dear Secretaries Pompeo and Nielsen:
We are deeply concerned about the slow pace of refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 18). We urge the Administration to make every effort to increase the rate of refugee admissions to meet the number established by the presidential determination for FY18.
We are in the midst of the largest refugee crisis in modern history with nearly 25.4 million refugees worldwide, over half of whom are children. Refugee resettlement is only available to the most vulnerable – less than one percent of all refugees – when safe return or local integration is not feasible.
Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States has resettled an average of over 80,000 refugees per year. Despite the record-breaking level of displacement worldwide, the United States has admitted just 14,331 refugees in the first eight months of this fiscal year. At this slow pace, the U.S. will fall far short of the proposed refugee admissions level of 45,000 refugees in FY18, already the lowest annual commitment in the history of the program.
Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to the United States. They do not arrive in the U.S. without first clearing extensive biometric, biographic, intelligence, medical, and law enforcement checks, involving multiple agencies. We must continue to screen refugee applicants thoroughly and address the drivers of mass displacement abroad.
Our nation’s founders came to our shores to escape religious persecution, and the United States has a long tradition of providing safe haven to refugees. Following the international community’s tragic failure to shelter Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi genocide, the United States has set a positive example for the world by providing safe haven to the world’s most vulnerable. Since 1975, the American people have generously welcomed more than three million refugees. With a global refugee crisis unprecedented in scale, the United States must maintain our leadership in welcoming those seeking safety from war and persecution.
For these reasons, we respectfully request your response to the following questions by July 5, 2018:
1) How many refugees do you expect to resettle during the remainder of FY18?
2) What specific steps will you take, if any, to increase the rate of refugee resettlement for the remainder of the fiscal year?
a. How many circuit rides have your agencies completed in FY 2018?
b. How many are planned for the remainder of the fiscal year?
c. How many Refugee Corps officers will join each circuit ride?
d. For each of these circuit rides, please also provide information regarding the location and the number of interviews conducted.
4) We are concerned about decisions made to reallocate staff and resources away from the program, further impeding refugee resettlement. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reassigned Refugee Corps officers, who are specially trained to screen refugees abroad, to process domestic asylum cases.
a. What are the current staffing levels for the Refugee Corps and the Asylum Corps?
b. How many Refugee Corps officers have been reassigned?
c. What steps, if any, is the Administration taking to fill the vacancies for reassigned Refugee Affairs Division officer positions?
5) On January 29, 2018, Secretary Nielsen announced additional security measures for refugee admissions for nationals from eleven countries. What steps is the Administration taking to resume the processing of refugees from these eleven countries in a timely manner?
6) The admission of Iraqis who aided the United States mission in Iraq slowed considerably, as new applicants now must apply as refugees through the Direct Access Program for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. What steps is the Administration taking to ensure that wartime partners, who served alongside U.S. Armed Forces and other government personnel, continue to have access to a path to safety in the United States?
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.
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