June 16, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Welcomes the Refugee Protection Act of 2011

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

BALTIMORE, June 16, 2011—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes the introduction of the Refugee Protection Act of 2011 (S. 1202 / H.R. 2185) by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Lofgren (D-CA-16). The bill would ensure that the United States continues to uphold its commitment refugees, asylum seekers, vulnerable children and other migrants who arrive on U.S. shores in search of protection. “The U.S. refugee program is a critical component of our nation’s foreign policy and humanitarian response to the millions of vulnerable migrants worldwide who cannot return home,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “As the United States celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, this year is a particularly opportune time to renew and improve the U.S. commitment to people fleeing persecution.”

During times of war and armed conflict, regrettably some refugee children witness the death of their parents or are permanently separated from their parents. The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 would help preserve family unity for children separated from their parents by allowing them to reunify with family members who have been acting as their caregivers. “Refugees cannot begin their lives in the United States if their families remain overseas,” added Janet Panning, Refugee Resettlement Program Director at Lutheran Children and Family Service of Pennsylvania. “Children in particular need stability and should be kept with family whenever possible.” Most importantly, this provision would ensure that vulnerable children would continue to receive the loving care they need.

Victoria Taylor, a home health care business owner and former refugee from Sierra Leone living in Gainesville, Virginia stated, “The U.S. refugee program offers an important opportunity for newcomers to rebuild their lives in the United States.” She continued, “I have benefited from this opportunity, but I believe that U.S. laws and policies can be improved.” Recognizing that refugee populations arriving to the United States have changed significantly over the past 30 years, the bill would update and review the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Mirroring provisions included earlier this year in the bipartisan Domestic Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act of 2011 (H.R. 1475), legislation introduced by Representatives Peters (D-MI-9) and Stivers (R-OH-15), the Refugee Protection Act of 2011 would direct a study on the effectiveness of the program at helping refugees achieve self-sufficiency, revise the way the federal government provides assistance to states, and collect additional data to help better understand refugees’ needs.

Finally, the legislation would eliminate the unnecessary one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers to file their asylum applications. Since the deadline was put in place 15 years ago, it has led to the denial, rejection, or delay of thousands of requests for asylum protection in the United States and created unnecessary inefficiencies in the adjudication process. For migrants who have limited English proficiency, are unfamiliar with U.S. laws, or have suffered trauma, meeting this filing deadline can be very challenging. Here is an example of an asylum seeker impacted by the filing deadline:

Chan,[1] a Burmese student, was jailed for several years for his pro-democracy activities. He fled to the United States though Chan did not know anyone in the United States, did not speak English, nor did he know about U.S. asylum laws. Several years after arriving to the United States, Burmese community members told him about how to apply for asylum to ensure he would not be deported back to Burma. Federal immigration officials found Chan to be credible and to face a clear probability of persecution. However, because he did not file his asylum application within one year of his arrival to the United States, his asylum application was denied. Instead, Chan was granted “withholding of removal,” a minimal form of legal protection which, among other disadvantages, does not allow him to adjust his immigration status to become a lawful permanent resident or to integrate fully into the United States.

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 with and 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.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy, at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

To read the LIRS statement in support of the Domestic Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act of 2011, click here.

To read the LIRS letter in support of the Strengthen and Unite Communities through Civics Education and English Development (SUCCEED) Act, click here.


[1] Name has been changed to protect identity of the individual.