Senators Blumenthal, Peters, Rep. Pascrell Lead Senate and House Colleagues in Urging State And Homeland Security Departments to Improve U.S. Capability to Accept, Accommodate Refugees

“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.

“Ultimately, it will take the inclusive effort of the international community to create a stable environment in Syria. In the interim, it is our moral duty to address this growing humanitarian disaster and allow families to be reunified.”

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and 11 of their Senate colleagues, joined Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-09) and 70 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in calling on the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate action to address the burdensome processes that unnecessarily delay refugee processing in the country. In joint letters to State Department Secretary John Kerry and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, the members 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.

“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,” they wrote. “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.”

“Ultimately, it will take the inclusive effort of the international community to create a stable environment in Syria. 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.”

“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.”

The members recommended the Administration that three specific steps to strengthen the country’s ability to process refugees:

1)     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.

2)     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. 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. 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.

3)     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 they have been approved, giving applicants the option to decide whether they prefer to remain with their family members or to move along to safety in the United States.

Full text of the letter to Secretary Kerry and Secretary Johnson can be viewed HERE

Joining Blumenthal, Peters and Pascrell as co-signers of the letter are U.S. Senators Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Al Franken (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The letter was also co-signed by U.S. Representatives Linda Sanchez (CA-38), Charles B. Rangel (NY-13), Robert Brady (PA-1), Jim McDermott (WA-7), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Sam Farr (CA-20), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Robert C. Scott (VA-3), Loretta Sanchez (CA-46), Bill Foster (IL-11), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Robin Kelly (IL-2), Beto O'Rourke (TX-16), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Michael E. Capuano (MA-07), Jared Polis (CO-02), Joseph Crowley (NY-14), Mark Takano (CA-41),  Derek Kilmer (WA-06), David Loebsack (IA-2), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Jared Huffman (CA-2), Mike Honda (CA-17), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1), Nadler (NY-10), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Bobby L. Rush (IL-1), Lois Capps (CA-24), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5), David Cicilline (RI-1), Jackson Lee (TX-18), Betty McCollum (MN-4), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Tim Ryan (OH-13), Adam Smith (WA-9), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Daniel Kildee (MI-5), Nydia Velazquez (NY-7), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Albio Sires (NJ-8), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-9), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Rick Nolan (MN-8), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6), Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3), Judy Chu (CA-32), John Conyers Jr. (MI-13), Ted Deutch (FL-21), André Carson (IN-7), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Paul D. Tonko (NY-20), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Alan Grayson (FL-9), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Mark Pocan (WI-2), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), John Lewis (GA-5), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA-8), James McGovern (MA-2), and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1).

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