March 15, 2016 STATEMENT — Statement Opposing Harmful “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016”

Press Contact: Miji Bell
MBell@lirs.org; 410-230-2841

WASHINGTON, DC — As an organization deeply committed to welcoming and serving refugees as they begin new lives in the United States, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is appalled by the “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act” (H.R. 4731), introduced this week by Representatives Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). As Lutherans, we continue to meet conflict, war, and persecution with God’s love. It is in this spirit that we reject H.R. 4731, a bill that would negatively impact the lives of refugees around the world and drastically alter, if not destroy, the refugee resettlement system in the United States.

Of particular concern, this bill would prioritize religious minorities in refugee resettlement above all other grounds – race, nationality, political opinion and membership in a particular social group – which are the basis of the internationally recognized refugee definition.   The United States refugee resettlement program resettles the most vulnerable among refugees, and if religious minorities are put at the head of the line for resettlement, more vulnerable women and children would be overlooked. As people of faith, we try to reach out the hand of compassion to all refugees who are fleeing life-threatening conditions, no matter their basis of persecution, and we urge you to oppose discrimination in offering the life-saving opportunity of resettlement.

For refugees fortunate enough to make it to the safety of the United States, this bill would undercut their ability to experience safety, permanence and begin their journey to start a new life. This bill would permit refugees to be placed under continual surveillance and mandate that they wait an additional two years before becoming permanent residents. Such restrictions on liberty and the pathway to legal security would impede any newcomer from embracing their new country, neighbors and community.

Further, the bill restricts the resettlement program’s ability to save lives, influence foreign policy and demonstrate United States leadership by removing the Presidential authority to determine the level of refugee resettlement each year. Instead, it sets an arbitrary annual cap of 60,000 refugees and creates an inflexible and cumbersome provision for addressing future emergencies. This provision represents a deep retreat from U.S. leadership at a time when the number of refugees globally is at its highest. It would also allow States and local governments to refuse to resettle refugees in their localities, fundamentally undercutting the essential ability of the federal government to undertake humanitarian action through the refugee resettlement program.

As people of faith, we are called by God to love sojourners as ourselves (Leviticus 19:33-34). LIRS urges the United States government to uphold its obligation to provide protection to individuals fleeing persecution in their homelands. Our nation has a long and proud history of living out the moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable newcomers and offer compassion and justice to all. LIRS is committed to ensuring that American policies and programs are just and protective of migrants and refugees.