(Hartford, CT) – This morning, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), at an event Syrian families, refugees and advocates, urged the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to adopt a four-point plan to address unnecessary delays, duplicative screenings and costly logistical hurdles that have led to intolerable, and life-threatening delays in refugee processing.
Developed in consultation with Connecticut and national advocates, Blumenthal’s four-point plan urges specific reforms that would eliminate wasteful and duplicative processes, driving down costs and immediately expediting processing without compromising security.
Blumenthal’s plan specifically calls for:
1) Expansion of the “Priority 3” program that allows refugees with relatives in the United States to apply directly to the U.S. government for screening and resettlement, rather than first seeking referral from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees or other referring entity. Right now the program is only available to refugees with family members here who arrived as refugees. Blumenthal’s plan calls for that program to be available to all refugees with relatives legally residing in the United States.
2) Improved coordination to end the repeat security checks that expire while refugees are still being processed. Refugees go through more than a half dozen screenings before arriving in the United States, with each screening valid for only a limited time. Applicants are forced to undergo repeat screenings as some expire while they wait for others to be completed, a waste of resources and a source of needless delay. Blumenthal’s plan 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.
3) Use of videoconferencing for security screenings to greatly reduce the need for expensive and logistically-difficult travel. Security screening interviews are now conducted in-person, requiring extensive foreign travel by federal officials and creating unnecessary barriers to reaching the most vulnerable populations.
4) Notification of families when some, but not all family members have been cleared. Right now, 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. Blumenthal’s plan calls for family members to be told when each member is approved, giving families the option to immediately resettle individuals while waiting for others to be processed.
“While I welcome the Administration’s commitment to accept additional refugees from Syrian and elsewhere next fiscal year, simply increasing that cap will be insufficient if we fail to expand capacity to screen and effectively resettle refugees within our borders. My four-point plan will expedite and streamline current processes, eliminate duplicative and unnecessary logistical barriers, and allow for faster processing without adding costs or compromising safety,” Blumenthal said. “Ultimately, a comprehensive effort by the international community will be necessary to effectively address the refugee crisis in Syria. Steps should be taken immediately to expedite effective screening and resettlement.”