RCUSA Statement: DHS Oversight Hearing

Refugee Council USA Statement for the Record

U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary Hearing

“Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security”

Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), a coalition of 24 U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, is dedicated to refugee protection, welcome, and excellence in the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Since 2000, RCUSA has promoted policies and programs that advance the United States’ commitment to refugees, asylees, asylum seekers and other individuals in need of humanitarian protections. RCUSA urges Members of the Committee to reaffirm the importance of the U.S. refugee resettlement program and to recognize the right of individuals to seek asylum no matter their manner of entry into the United States. We also urge you to hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accountable under domestic and international law for the important role it plays in the U.S. resettlement and asylum programs.

RCUSA has observed the systematic weakening of America’s commitment to refugees through a series of refugee bans and related administrative changes that have restricted and reduced refugee resettlement. These have prolonged the separation of at-risk families and threatened the safety of tens of thousands of overseas refugees who otherwise were on track to come to the United States and receive refugee resettlement protection.

In FY18, the Administration reduced the number of refugees that could be resettled in the United States during the fiscal year to a historic low of 45,000, and it ultimately resettled less than half that number of refugees. In FY19, the Administration reduced the number of refugees that can be resettled in the United States to a new historic low of 30,000. As of Nov. 30, 2018, only 3,939 refugees, or 13 percent of the eligible total, had been admitted to the United States. If refugee admissions proceed at that rate, the United States would admit only 23,634 refugees by the end of the fiscal year, well short of the stated goal.

These significant reductions come on the heels of a robust refugee resettlement program that for decades promised to resettle an average of 95,000 refugees per year, thereby strengthening U.S. foreign policy and contributing to our moral leadership on the world stage. RCUSA calls on the Committee to ensure the Administration is operating the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in good faith and to hold the Administration accountable for meeting the FY19 refugee admissions goal.

RCUSA has also witnessed ongoing and systemic attempts by the Administration to block access to asylum for vulnerable families and individuals in need of protection. For example, the Administration’s Nov. 9 asylum ban proclamation and related administrative rules seek to prohibit asylum seekers who crossed between ports of entry from applying for asylum. A U.S. federal district court judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop this policy change, explaining that it “irreconcilably conflicts with the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] and the expressed intent of Congress.”

Meanwhile, DHS has repeatedly undermined U.S. asylum protections by turning away asylum seekers at the border and detaining asylum seekers who enter the United States. These measures are comparable to the earlier, ill-fated policies of separating families at the border to deter other families from fleeing the violence in Central America.

Congress and the Administration need to view this migration as a refugee protection situation. People have a human, legal and moral right to seek protection in a country where they will be safe. Turning away or criminalizing people seeking protection violates international human rights and refugee laws. The actions of turning away asylum seekers, closing and limiting access to ports of entry and militarizing the border have exacerbated, not resolved, the challenges of providing needed protection in the United States.

Furthermore, the United States has the capacity, expertise and duty both to resettle tens of thousands more refugees than it currently plans to resettle in FY19 and to implement a fair and humane asylum process for all the families and individuals who arrive at our borders seeking protection. RCUSA urges Committee Members to insist that the Administration expeditiously and responsibly processes all individuals who arrive to the United States and seek asylum and other forms of relief.

RCUSA also calls on Congress and the Administration to address root causes of migration and provide alternatives to dangerous migration. On the latter point, a viable alternative for Central American children should be restored, namely the Central American Minors (CAM) Program, which was hastily eliminated in January 2018 and left nearly 4,000 children seeking protection without the chance to have their claims heard. We also urge Congress and the Administration to strengthen refugee and migrant protection throughout Central America and Mexico and to end violence and corruption that forces people to flee.

— For Immediate Release, Contact Lucy Hood, lhood@rcusa.org