April 12, 2011 STATEMENT– Improving the Welcome for Refugees Resettled to the United States

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, April 12, 2011 — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) welcomes the introduction of the Domestic Refugee Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act of 2011, H.R. 1475. Introduced by Representative Peters (D-MI-9) and a bipartisan group of 20 original co-sponsors, the bill represents a significant step towards ensuring better support to communities that welcome refugees resettled to the United States and improving the services offered to these vulnerable newcomers.

In partnership with the federal government and state entities, in fiscal year (FY) 2010, LIRS and our national network of refugee resettlement partners resettled over 10,000 refugees to communities across the country. H.R. 1475 proposes much-needed reforms to help improve the integration of refugees into American communities. “We commend Representative Peters for his efforts to improve the U.S. refugee resettlement program,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “This year is an especially opportune and urgent moment for reform as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. LIRS looks forward to working with Congress and the Administration to advance this bipartisan legislation and to continue to advocate for a proper welcome for refugees and other vulnerable migrants.”

Over the last three decades, refugee populations arriving to the United States have changed significantly. In the early 1980s, the vast majority of refugees admitted to the United States were fleeing conflicts in South Asia. Today the refugee populations are more diverse and vulnerable, with over 54 countries represented in FY 2009. Recognizing these changes, H.R.1475 would assess the well-being of refugees resettled to the United States by requiring the government to analyze the challenges refugees and communities face and the effectiveness of efforts to help refugees attain self-sufficiency, amongst other important issues.

“When refugees come to the United States, they have to restart their lives,” said Checago Bright, a former Liberian refugee who later assisted refugees resettled to North Carolina by Lutheran Services for the Aging. “Refugee resettlement services must be efficient and flexible in responding to refugees’ needs and strengths.”

To ensure communities and refugees receive appropriate levels of assistance, the bill would revise the way the federal government provides funding to states and local resettlement organizations. Belmin Pinjic, Director of Refugee Services at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, added, “The U.S. resettlement program is in dire need of reform and modernization in order to better serve refugees and support the communities that welcome them.” 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 provides services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners.

If you have questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, LIRS Director for LIRS Advocacy, at 202/626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

The April 5, 2011 LIRS statement in support of the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2011 can be found here.

The September 30, 2010 LIRS statement for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Sudanese Refugees can be found here.

The September 24, 2010 LIRS statement on the legislation to assist elderly and disabled refugees and humanitarian migrants can be found here.

The June 17, 2010 LIRS statement for World Refugee Day 2010 can be found here.