On Wednesday, at a time when we are facing a global refugee crisis, H.R. 4731, “The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act” passed out of committee in the House of Representatives with a vote of 18-9. Unfortunately, this bill does anything but restore integrity. I suppose it depends on how one defines “integrity,” but according to the dictionary, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” Can anyone defend what is honest or morally upright about a bill that would:
• Reduce U.S. resettlement to 60,000 refugees per year at a time when there are 60 million people displaced from their homes, 20 million of whom are refugees (more than any time since World War II);
• Negatively impact the treatment of refugees worldwide, as the world looks to the United States for leadership in this area;
• Openly discriminate against Muslim refugees (when more than 750 religious leaders and faith-based organizations have urged Congress to oppose such discriminatory legislation);
• Construct additional barriers to integration and family reunification, continuing and compounding the trauma that refugees have suffered already from losing their homes, communities, and loved ones; and
• Allow state and local governments to actively violate anti-discrimination laws and create forbidden zones for refugees.
Does this sound like a bill founded on strong moral principles, as the word “integrity” might suggest? No. Rather, this bill is nothing more than a wrong-headed, knee-jerk reaction to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino (ironically, neither of which involved Syrian refugees). It is a misinformed attack on the U.S. refugee resettlement program, thinly-veiled under the façade of “integrity.”
I say this bill is misinformed because it does nothing to further its stated national security goals. In fact, this bill would have the opposite effect, undermining U.S. foreign policy and security objectives. First, refugees are already the most thoroughly vetted individuals to enter the United States. Every refugee goes through rigorous, multi-level security screenings conducted by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Defense, and National Counter Terrorism Center. These screenings involve multiple interviews with U.S. officials, biographic and biometric checks, medical screenings, forensic testing of documents, and DNA testing for family reunification cases. Moreover, refugees do not choose which country they are resettled to, but rather, the U.N. refugee agency recommends highly vulnerable refugees to resettlement countries.
Second, refugee resettlement is a critical component to maintaining regional stability in many parts of the world. A bill that further limits refugee resettlement stokes the instability and further destabilizes regions of concern to U.S. security, such as the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Third, negatively impacting the treatment of refugees worldwide by contributing to, and encouraging, xenophobia and racism only multiplies our enemies and strengthens the fervor of those who already wish harm upon the United States and its citizens. Fourth, and a related point, embracing and integrating refugees into the United States increases cultural understanding and shared values; the more we understand and respect each other, the safer the world will be.
Finally, this bill’s provisions that would allow state and local governments to stop resettlement in their localities would not only violate established anti-discrimination laws and infringe upon the federal government’s constitutionally-mandated jurisdiction over immigration policy, but also, these provisions do nothing to serve their purpose of keeping refugees out of their states and localities. Resettled refugees are lawfully present in the United States and are free to move to whichever states or communities they would like following resettlement. Moreover, resettled refugees in the U.S. have a history of proven success, supporting their families, paying taxes, contributing to their communities, and working in industries ranging from hospitality and food service, to teaching and engineering, to nursing and medicine, and to business ownership and entrepreneurship.
If certain members of the House of Representatives want to use “national security” to grandstand and pander, and if they truly want to legislate their xenophobic “values,” that is their prerogative. But please…call it like it is. This bill does not restore integrity to the refugee resettlement program as its name, designed as a distraction, might suggest. To me, H.R. 4731 is “The Refugee Fear-Mongering and Discrimination Act.”
Written by Dree Collopy, Co-Chair, AILA Asylum & Refugee Liaison Committee, and Vice-Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee