September 24, 2010 STATEMENT — LIRS Calls for the Immediate Passage of Legislation to Extend Assistance to Elderly and Disabled Refugees and Humanitarian Migrants

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

LIRS Calls for the Immediate Passage of Legislation to Extend Assistance to Elderly and Disabled Refugees and Humanitarian Migrants

BALTIMORE, September 24, 2010 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation to extend for at least one year a critical lifeline for elderly and disabled refugees and humanitarian migrants.[1] In 1996, Congress passed sweeping welfare reform legislation which placed a time limit on the eligibility of refugees and humanitarian migrants for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a modest monthly income for individuals who have low income and few resources. If Congress does not extend SSI assistance to these vulnerable migrants by September 30, 2010, an estimated 3,000 individuals will lose access to these benefits.

Since 1996, recognizing that the law needed to give individuals more time to become naturalized U.S. citizens and therefore retain their SSI assistance, Congress has twice passed laws to temporarily extend the SSI eligibility period. However, for poor, elderly and disabled victims of persecution, becoming a U.S. citizen has not been easy. First, federal government backlogs delayed the adjudication of naturalization applications. Even though these backlogs have since been reduced, naturalization application fees are about the same amount of money as an individual would receive in monthly SSI income. Finally, these migrants have faced challenges passing the English and civics portion of the naturalization exam. Learning English is not easy, particularly for older and disabled individuals who may not be able to leave their homes to attend English language classes.

As reported in a recent New York Times article, in 2000 Obid Sharif and Buthania Elamin Adam came to the United States from Sudan.[2] Soon after their arrival, they obtained asylum protection from the federal government. At the age of 73, they rely on SSI’s modest cash assistance as their only source of income. Without it, the couple would struggle to pay for treatments for his prostate cancer or her heart trouble.

“The U.S. refugee program is a critical component of our nation’s commitment to providing life saving assistance for refugees,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “It would be tragic if the United States could not find a way to assist these particularly vulnerable migrants who are at risk of losing their assistance.” Since 1939, LIRS and our national network of 22 local resettlement affiliate sites have resettled to the United States more than 360,000 refugees from all over the world.

LIRS assists and advocates on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers, unaccompanied children, migrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. LIRS is the national agency established by Lutheran church bodies in the United States to carry out the churches’ ministry with uprooted people and provides services to refugees and migrants through over 60 legal and social service partners. LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose members comprise over 7 million congregants nationwide.

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

LIRS’s World Refugee Day website can be found here.

LIRS’s statement in support of the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3113) can be found here.

1 The term “humanitarian migrant” in this document includes asylees, victims of human trafficking, Cuban and Haitian entrants, people whose deportation is withheld for humanitarian reasons, and Amerasians.

2 Robert Pear, “Many Indigent Refugees to Lose Federal Assistance,” The New York Times, July 31, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/us/01benefits.html?_r=1&msource=AU100902&tr=y&auid=6924254 (accessed September 23, 2010).