Participants in Refugee Council USA’s Advocacy Week elevate the urgent need to invest in the American refugee resettlement system amid record-breaking numbers of displaced people worldwide
Washington, DC – As the number of refugees worldwide surpasses 31 million, this week nearly 500 people over 40 states are meeting with their members of Congress, urging them to play their part in rebuilding humanitarian protection for refugees in the United States. As part of this effort led by Refugee Council USA, on Tuesday May 10th Executive Director John Slocum hosted a press briefing with prominent leaders including Dauda Sesay, Vice-Chair of the Refugee Congress Board of Directors and founding member and president of the Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants; Mark Hetfield, president & CEO of HIAS; former US Representative from Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; Fereshteh Ganjavi, founder & executive director of Elena’s Light; and Rachel Perić, executive director of Welcoming America.
Among the participants joining this year’s virtual Advocacy Week, more than 70 are refugees, former refugees, and asylees. “Refugees are much better equipped to carry the message of how much refugee resettlement and the larger system of welcome means to them, and to this country,” said Slocum. “They give back to their communities and enrich our country in so many ways.”
RCUSA and constituent advocates are asking Congress for their support in rebuilding the US refugee program, including appropriating necessary funds for critical infrastructure; restoring the US asylum program including supporting the end of Title 42 and Remain in Mexico; affirming the rights of stateless people living in the United States; and providing a pathway to protection for people who have been displaced by climate change.
This year’s Advocacy Week comes at a time when all eyes are on the crisis in Ukraine and the mass displacement it has caused. While applauding the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine initiative, Sesay pointed out the exceptionalism of the response to the emergency in Ukraine when compared to other displacement crises. “What I experienced in Sierra Leone is not different from what Ukrainians are experiencing right now. The problem is how society reacts; how our leaders respond,” said Sesay. “The response now is not equal to the global refugee crisis that we are witnessing. It takes all of us to see what we can do to help those vulnerable communities, and how we can have an equitable pathway for those seeking protections.”
“While we appreciate the Biden Administration raising the refugee ceiling, we urge them to rebuild U.S. capacity to reach that ceiling,” said Heftield. “It is tragic that, during the largest refugee crisis in history, we expect 85 percent of U.S. refugee admissions slots to expire unused at the end of this fiscal year. The US Refugee Admissions program gives refugees a pathway to integration, lawful residence and citizenship, in contrast to the road to nowhere built by the Biden Administration for Afghan allies and Ukrainian refugees, where humanitarian parole keeps people in legal limbo. Congress should also start working to find solutions, starting with legislating an Afghan Adjustment Act so Afghan allies who are already here can get the legal residence they need to rebuild their lives.”
Ganjavi, a former Afghan refugee herself, founded Elena’s Light in 2018, a nonprofit that provides services for refugee women and children in Connecticut. She cited the instrumental role that a local resettlement agency played throughout her life after resettling in 2011, and called for continued support of the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program. “As someone who benefited and also dedicated her life to help other refugees who are coming to the United States, and faced the struggles, I am asking for support for resettlement agencies and other nonprofit organizations such as Elena’s Light, to empower new community members, who are our neighbors, our future leaders, and role models for our children,” Ganjavi said.
Ros-Lehtinen, whose family fled from Cuba to the United States when she was a child, highlighted the economic contributions refugees make once here. “Just like my family proudly did in south Florida, refugees help grow local economies and create jobs. According to the American Immigration Council, in my home state, refugees contributed nearly $750 million in taxes, and generated nearly $180 million in business income in 2019 alone,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “Refugees come here with immense skills. We see it in stories all over the United States—community by community—that our country is stronger when we are welcoming.”
“The US resettlement system is designed to enable us to play fair, rather than play favorites.” Perić said, echoing Sesay’s comments about equity. “It is designed to ensure we don’t let the burden fall entirely to refugees to navigate new systems that too often exclude them – and other Americans – on the basis of race, origin and language. It is designed to make those systems more inclusive so that in a country that respects civil rights, we don’t create more separate but unequal.”
If you missed the press conference, remarks can be viewed in full HERE. For questions or to arrange an interview with any of the featured speakers, please contact Sarah Seniuk, email@example.com.
RCUSA is a diverse coalition advocating for just and humane laws and policies, and the promotion of dialogue and communication among government, civil society, and those who need protection and welcome. Individual RCUSA members do not all address all refugee-related issues, nor do all individual members approach common refugee-related issues identically.