Washington, DC — Following his January inauguration, President Biden signaled his intention to rebuild America’s refugee resettlement program, swiftly rescinding Trump’s discriminatory Muslim, refugee, African, and asylum bans and announcing his intentions to raise the refugee admissions goal for the remainder of the year, and to return admissions categories to their historic, regional origins. Biden began the appropriate legal steps to raise the admissions goal mid-year, issuing a revised report to Congress and holding consultations; however, one month later, we are without the final signed admissions goal. Today, Jenny Yang, Vice President for Advocacy and Policy with World Relief, moderated a panel of policy experts, refugees, and community leaders in response to the ongoing delays.
Thousands of refugees have been waiting years to be reunited with family. President Biden’s inauguration and statements of support renewed hope for many that their agonizing separations might soon be coming to a close. And yet, despite public promises, hope continues to be delayed. Over 700 refugees who were scheduled to arrive under the revised admissions goal have had their flights canceled.
“I’m a former refugee. I was resettled in Tennessee through World Relief. My brother, his wife and his family members, they were planning to join my brother here in Memphis last week and their flight was canceled. The entire community was informed and they were planning to join us at the airport to welcome them. Now with this delay, we are very concerned about their medical clearances, which are going to expire in the next couple of days. We are hoping that the president will formalize the revised refugee ceiling that was set for this fiscal year as soon as possible. So these people are left in limbo, they can join. They can come to our state as soon as possible,” said Basuze Madogo, a resettlement specialist at World Relief Memphis.
“Many of our Grace Immanuel church members see welcoming refugees as a literal hands-on way of practicing Christianity: Love your neighbor,” said Todd Turner, the refugee committee chair for Grace Immanuel United Church of Christ in Louisville, Kentucky. “Multiple delays have prevented us from welcoming a six-member Congolese family our congregation was originally scheduled to co-sponsor in the fall of 2019, and members recently rallied once again in recent weeks to provide even more resources for the family’s latest scheduled trip — before yet another delay.”
“We hope that President Biden will follow through on his commitment to raise the refugee ceiling as soon as possible. We have several families that have been impacted, including one refugee woman whose family flight was cancelled twice under President Trump and now for the first time under President Biden. We believe that the administration can both resettle refugees and help those seeking asylum at our border. In fact, they reinforce each other and help amplify US commitment and leadership to refugee protection. During the one month anniversary of the Congressional consultations, we hope the President will sign the Presidential Determination as soon as possible,” said Jenny Yang, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief.
John Slocum, Interim Executive Director of RCUSA said “President Biden campaigned on a promise to ‘build back better’ — including our refugee system. He has reiterated that message since coming to office. It’s now time to put pen to paper. We urge the President to sign the revised admissions goal without delay. Already this month, flights have been canceled for 700 refugees, who were fully vetted and ready to depart for the United States. Further delay only harms the most vulnerable future Americans.”
Melanie Nezer, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at HIAS stated, “This month as we mark the anniversary of the 1980 Refugee Act, we also mark another. Exactly one month ago, the administration issued its emergency Report to Congress on Refugee Admissions, but the President has not yet formalized their new framework. The PD that the administration proposed and that we are waiting for the President to sign is a departure from the prior administration, whose approach was the anomaly. Before the last administration, the US hadn’t closed its doors so tightly to refugees since the era of WW2. This PD will return us to normal. It’s normal for the US to admit refugees through the US refugee admissions program, offering safety and a chance at a decent life to people who are persecuted. It’s time to get back to it.”
“Each day without a revised refugee admissions goal is another day we see heartbreaking accounts of families being separated and losing hope after long delays,” said Jennifer Sime, Senior Vice President of Programs at IRC. “We need a revised Presidential Determination now that recognizes the rising global need and removes the discriminatory bars to admissions that targeted Muslim and African refugees. Tens of thousands of people fleeing the world’s worst crises are ready to depart, we are ready to receive them, and communities across America are ready to welcome.”
Each of today’s panelists are available for further comment.
Jenny Yang, Senior Vice President, World Relief (moderator)
Jenny Yang is the Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief where she provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions for the organization and leads the organization’s public relations efforts. In this position, she coordinates and leads the marketing, programs, and strategic engagement division teams on media relations, public engagement and brand elevation strategies. She also represents the organization’s advocacy priorities to the US government and leads mobilization efforts for churches on advocacy campaigns. She has worked over a decade in refugee protection, immigration policy, and human rights and was on an active deployment roster for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Previous to World Relief, she worked at one of the largest political consulting companies in Maryland. Jenny is co-author of “Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate” and contributing author to three other books. Jenny was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today.
John Slocum, Interim Executive Director, Refugee Council USA (RCUSA)
John Slocum has served as Interim Executive Director of RCUSA since January 2021. He is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs as well as an Associate Senior Researcher at CIDOB, the Barcelona Center for International Affairs. He is also Co-Coordinator of the Repository of Documentation Relating to Disappearances in Mexico. From 2006 to 2016, he served as program director for grantmaking initiatives on international migration and US immigration policy at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He also directed MacArthur’s Higher Education Initiative in Russia and its Research and Writing grants competition. He is a member of the advisory board for Justice in Motion, and a past board member of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees. John has a PhD in political science from the University of Chicago and has published articles and commentary on migration, philanthropy, and Russia.
Melanie Nezer, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at HIAS
Melanie Nezer is Senior Vice President, Public Affairs for HIAS, the global Jewish organization for refugees. In this role, she is responsible for planning, directing, managing and implementing strategies that represent and connect HIAS externally. HIAS Public Affairs is responsible for presenting HIAS to the world and creating powerful and sustained public support for our work and for refugees, with the goal of achieving just and humane global refugee and asylum policies and ensuring that people receive the support they need to rebuild their lives. Melanie has provided pro bono legal assistance to detained asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border and has visited many refugee communities around the world. Her 2019 Ted Talk, “The Fundamental Right to Seek Asylum” has been viewed over 1.8 million times.
Jennifer Sime, Senior Vice President of US Programs at IRC
Jennifer is a development and humanitarian specialist with more than 22 years of experience, including 20 years of work with the IRC at both the field and headquarters levels. As Senior Vice President of the Resettlement, Asylum, and Integration programs department, Jennifer serves refugees, asylees, survivors of torture, victims of human trafficking, and other immigrants by overseeing the implementation of over $127 million worth of programs focused on resettlement, immigration, mental health, food and agriculture, economic empowerment, and education in 26 cities in the United States and across six offices in Europe. In February 2019, Jennifer’s portfolio was expanded to include IRC’s measurement efforts. As an organization focused on making evidence-based decision making, IRC seeks to ensure that its programs have the right set of data at the right time, have the tools to manage the flow of data, and can make use of that data in a timely way. She holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Boston University and a graduate degree in Latin American Studies from New York University. Jennifer is fluent in Spanish.
Basuze Magodo, Resettlement Specialist at World Relief Memphis
Basuze Gulain Madogo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and first fled with his family for refuge in 1996. He was invited to be permanently resettled in the United States in 2014 through World Relief Memphis. He was hired by World Relief Memphis as a Resettlement Specialist in 2016, graduated with an Associate Degree from Southwest Tennessee Community College in 2017, and is studying Accounting at the University of Memphis. The US Resettlement Program has given me a chance to live my freedom and my potential, and I have become a productive member of society, something that I have been longing for. There are many individuals like me who also want to live the freedom and potential and they want to be somebody in society, and I believe that can happen with the signing of the proposed Presidential Determination.
Todd Turner, Community Sponsorship lead for Grace Immanuel UCC
Todd Turner leads the refugee committee for Grace Immanuel United Church of Christ, a small but vigorous urban congregation in Louisville, Kentucky., with a long history of co-sponsoring refugees in partnership with Kentucky Refugee ministries. Along with fellow church members, he has assisted with the arrival Congolese, Syrian and Iraqi families who joined the vibrant refugee communities in Louisville. Grace Immanuel has welcomed more than a dozen families over 20 years and maintains relationships with many individuals who arrived from countries throughout the world. Todd is married to wife Julie, also a church member, and works as a motorsports journalist for DirtonDirt.com, a division of FloSports that covers Dirt Late Model racing.
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.
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