February 13, 2013 STATEMENT–LIRS Welcomes Re-Introduction of the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, Wednesday, February 13, 2013 —Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes Representative Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) re-introduction of the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act (H.R. 651). The bill contains a number of key reforms supporting the long-term integration of refugees and other vulnerable migrants who find safety and a new home in the United States.

“LIRS and our national network of refugee resettlement partners applaud Rep. Ellison’s Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “This legislation comes at an opportune moment as Congress, the President, and the American people engage in debate around common-sense reforms to our immigration system that recognize the vital asset newcomers are to our nation and local communities.  Alongside Rep. Ellison’s bill, comprehensive immigration reform must update all channels of migration to the United States and improve the protection of vulnerable migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.”

“Congressman Ellison’s leadership seen in the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act sustains the value of welcome to our global neighbors as they escape refugee status, war, and despair to seek dignity, safety, and hope in our communities,” said Jodi Harpstead, Chief Executive Officer at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

LIRS’s 2009 report The Real Cost of Welcome: A Financial Analysis of Local Refugee Reception recommended increasing the per capita Reception and Placement grant provided to each refugee to assist with their initial arrival to the United States. In January 2010, the government announced it would double this grant. While this increase is welcome, the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act would ensure that refugees’ initial needs are met by requiring the grant to keep pace with cost of living and inflation increases. “The Refugee Act of 1980 formalized the services to refugees in the United States around the time my family was able to seek safety and a new life here,” said Chris Phan, the son of former refugees from Vietnam who now serves as a City Council member in Garden Grove, CA. “I wanted to give back to America for the freedom she gave me by serving in our military for eight years and now representing my community as an elected official. Our nation must continue to invest in refugees.”

The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act would also provide for extended case management for highly vulnerable refugees. As the United States continues to prioritize and welcome greater numbers of refugees with special needs, such as single-women-headed households, victims of torture, victims of trauma, or those with severe medical and mental health needs, specialized and lengthened case management would ensure that refugees have the tools they need to integrate into American communities. While many refugees need only basic assistance navigating unfamiliar systems within their new country, others may require a longer amount of individualized attention and assistance to meet their diverse needs.

Additionally, the bill also includes protections for vulnerable migrant children who have been victims of serious crimes. Since 1975, LIRS, through its vast service network, has placed over 6,000 unaccompanied migrant children with licensed and trained foster families. LIRS recognizes the significant challenges that migrant and refugee children face, particularly when they are separated from their parents and family. The bill allows certain child victims of crime who are granted a “U” visa to access a specialized federal foster care program called the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program, as well as other forms of federal assistance. Instead of releasing vulnerable children who have no one to care for them onto the streets, the bill would allow a small number of children to access this federal foster care program every year. The program is tailored to meet the specific needs of unaccompanied refugee children, Special Immigrant Juveniles, child victims of human trafficking, and children granted asylum.

Additional LIRS materials can be read on-line:

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. For more information, please visit www.lirs.org.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at bnystrom@lirs.org.