10.13.15

Peters Leads Letter Urging Departments of State and Homeland Security to Improve U.S. Capability to Accept, Accommodate Refugees

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today announced he has joined his colleagues Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ) in leading a letter to the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS), urging both departments to take immediate action to address the burdensome processes that unnecessarily delay refugee processing in the country. In the letter, Peters and his colleagues commended the Administration’s plan to increase the number of refugees brought to the U.S. and also advised the Departments to make changes to the current processing systems to ensure that the greater numbers of refugees can be accepted and processed in a timely and effective manner. Joining Peters, Blumenthal and Pascrell on the letter were 11 Senators and 70 Representatives.

“We urge you to work with Congress through the budget and appropriations process to allocate sufficient resources to effectively increase and thoroughly screen applicants for resettlement in the United States,” wrote Peters and his colleagues. “Likewise, the Administration can and should institute reforms to boost the number of refugees processed by taking the following actions which do not require additional resources.”

In the letter, the members recommended the Administration take three specific steps to strengthen the country’s ability to process refugees:

Expand the “Priority 3” program that allows all refugees with relatives legally residing in the United States to apply to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for screening and resettlement, rather than first seeking referral from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees or other referring entity. Currently, this program is limited to applicants with a family member who was first granted legal status in the United States as a refugee or asylee.

Improve coordination to end the repeat security checks that expire while refugees are still being processed. Refugees go through multiple screenings before arriving in the United States, with each screening valid for only a limited time. Some applicants are forced to undergo repeat screenings as the security check expires while they wait for others to be completed, a waste of resources and a source of needless delay. This letter calls for expanding the validity period of screenings in cases where doing so would not compromise the integrity of the check, and for agencies to increase coordination to allow for checks to be expedited when necessary to avoid duplication.

Inform families when some, but not all, family members have been cleared. At the moment, the Administration waits for all members of a family to be approved for resettlement before notification. A single family member’s application could hold up the ability of all other family members to safely resettle—leaving others at risk of injury or death. This letter calls for the Administration to consider expediting approvals of these cases when possible. If applications cannot be expedited, family members should still be told when individual applicants have been approved, giving applicants the option to decide whether they prefer to remain with their family members or accept admission to the United States.

“Ultimately, it will take the inclusive effort of the international community to create a stable environment in Syria,” wrote Peters and his colleagues. “In the interim, it is our moral duty to address this growing humanitarian disaster and allow families to be reunified. Syrians who are resettled would enjoy the support of active and engaged Syrian-American communities around the United States. These families would have a home ready for them and a source of financial support.”

Last month, Senator Peters sent a letter to President Obama urging the United States to resettle at least 100,000 refugees from Syria and persecuted religious minority refugees in both Iraq and Syria in the coming years, including 30,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016. Senator Peters additionally sent a letter with his colleagues to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson requesting information about the possibility of refugee interviews being conducted via videoconferencing in war-torn regions too dangerous for U.S. personnel to conduct in-person interviews.

In September, Senators Peters and Chris Murphy (CT) traveled to the Middle East to meet with officials in Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In addition to holding meetings to discuss ongoing anti-ISIS military operations in Iraq and Syria, Peters and Murphy visited Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan to learn firsthand about the critical role that the United States and its allies play in providing humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrian refugees.

The full text of the letter is below, or click HERE:

Dear Secretaries Kerry and Johnson:

 

We write to express our concern regarding the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and our nation’s response. We appreciate the Administration’s announcements to accept both a larger number of Syrian refugees, as well as overall refugees, in the next fiscal year. Yet increasing the number of refugees we welcome is insufficient as a response, if we do not have the expanded capacity to screen and effectively resettle refugees within our borders. We urge you to work with Congress through the budget and appropriations process to allocate sufficient resources to effectively increase and thoroughly screen applicants for resettlement in the United States. Likewise, the Administration can and should institute reforms to boost the number of refugees processed by taking the following actions which do not require additional resources.

First, we urge the Administration to expand the Priority 3 (P-3) program. As you know, the P-3 program allows refugees with relatives in the United States to have access to the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program. The program not only enables the relatives of Americans to be resettled more rapidly, but it also frees up United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resources to focus on other applicants. Unfortunately, the P-3 program is limited to applicants with a family member who first came to the United States as a refugee or was first admitted as an asylee. Yet, it makes no sense to deny a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident mother the opportunity to remove her child from harm’s way simply because that mother came to the United States through a legal path other than a refugee or asylum application. In the past, the P-3 program has been open to all refugees with a relative legally residing in the United States. We urge you to broaden the P-3 program to allow access for all refugees with a relative legally residing in the United States, per its original intent. Likewise, we implore you to allow additional qualifying relatives to sponsor family members beyond the immediate nuclear family.

Second, we request the Administration improve coordination to avoid the need to repeat security checks that expire while a refugee is still being processed. As you know, refugees go through more than a half dozen screenings before they can come to the United States, with each screening only valid for a limited time. As a result, an applicant could have one screening expire while he or she waits for another screening to be completed, in turn requiring a redo of the first screening. Worse, an entire family may have their screenings expire while they wait for a single family member to complete another part of the screening process. When applicants are forced to complete screenings multiple times in this fashion, the result is unnecessary duplication and delay. This constitutes a waste of resources that has the potential to leave refugees in harm’s way for additional months. Processing agencies need to increase coordination to ensure that applicants are not forced to complete checks multiple times and should seriously consider expanding the validity period of such checks, when doing so does not compromise the integrity of the screening. Further, the processing agencies should use their authority to expedite particular screenings when necessary to avoid duplication and undue delay, while still subjecting refugees to the most rigorous security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.

Third, we implore the Administration to inform families if only a few members, but not all, have been cleared. When only part of a family has been approved for resettlement, those family members who have been approved should have the ability to reach safety within our borders. Ideally, the processing agencies should do everything in their power to expedite approvals so that entire families are not held up because of a delay in a single family member’s application. If applications cannot be expedited, family members should still be told when they have been approved, as it allows applicants to decide whether they prefer to remain with their family members or to move along to safety in the United States. This information could enable applicants to avoid an imminent risk of injury or death, and there is no good reason to withhold it except in extraordinary circumstances.

Ultimately, it will take the inclusive effort of the international community to create a stable environment in Syria to allow refugees to return home. In the interim, it is our moral duty to address this growing humanitarian disaster and allow families to be reunified. Syrians who are resettled would enjoy the support of active and engaged Syrian-American communities around the United States. These families would have a home ready for them, a source of financial support, and the commitment to return to help rebuild Syria after the war is over.

We stand ready to work with the Administration to join our allies around the world in providing assistance to millions of people who have been displaced from their homes and countries during the ongoing civil war in Syria. Thank you in advance for your consideration of these requests.

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