Immigration Advocacy Newsletter Winter 2014
Immigration Advocacy Network Newsletter: Winter, 2014
It’s a new year, but where does immigration reform stand? I sit down with Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina to discuss the state of play; The Episcopal Church submits testimony to the Senate Judiciary committee in support of humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees; and much more below in this month’s newsletter!
- Advocacy Calendar
Keep an eye on our Facebook Page, The Episcopal Public Policy Network, and our Twitter feed, @TheEPPN, for advocacy updates!
- Episcopal Church Actions
The Episcopal Church submits testimony for Senate Judiciary Hearing, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis”
On January 7th, 2014 the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing to explore the breadth, depth, and possible humanitarian solutions to the Syrian refugee crisis. Sadly, the international community is approaching a grim anniversary in March, which will mark the third anniversary of a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and expelled more than 2.3 million refugees into neighboring countries. These levels of displacement make the Syrian conflict the worst refuge crisis since the Rwandan genocide.
The Episcopal Church submitted the testimony below in support of increased humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees and other refugees in the region, link here, and a webcast of the hearing complete with links to the panelist’s testimonies can be found at the subcommittee website.
Testimony of Deborah Stein and Katie Conway on Behalf of The Episcopal Church:
We thank Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cruz for the opportunity to submit this testimony. The Episcopal Church, a member of the 80-million member worldwide Anglican Communion, welcomes this important and timely hearing, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis,” and wishes to voice its strong support for continued and significant humanitarian assistance abroad for Syrian refugees and a robust refugee resettlement program that can meet the needs of vulnerable people fleeing violence and seeking peace. The Episcopal Church has been engaged in humanitarian assistance abroad and refugee resettlement in the United States since the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief was established in 1940 and we continue these ministries of presence today.
Episcopalians have just celebrated Epiphany, the culmination of Christmas, in which we recall the journey of the magi toward the infant Jesus. One important theme of this story is persecution and refuge. As it is written in Matthew: “13 Now after [the magi] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”- Mathew 2:13-15
The story of the flight of Mary, Joseph, and their infant son, under the cover of night and threat of death, points Christians today to acknowledge and address the needs of refugees and other victims of persecution on our own time. Episcopal Migration Ministries has worked in public-private partnership with the U.S. Government to resettle thousands of refugees since the inception of the refugee resettlement program and remains committed to serving and welcoming refugees as they begin their new lives in our communities.
The case of Syrian refugees presents unique challenges worthy of particular attention from the U.S. government and its partners. Of more than 2.3 million Syrian refugees, 1.1 million are children. Since the conflict began displacing large numbers of Syrians in 2012, the number of people forced to flee the violence there has eclipsed those of the Rwandan genocide or ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and an entire generation of Syrian children struggles daily to secure housing, food, healthcare, and education with no end to displacement in sight.
The U.S. has provided key humanitarian assistance to neighboring countries receiving Syrian refugees. As the conflict continues, however, it can and must provide even stronger commitments. In addition to providing ongoing support to displaced people, the U.S. should maintain a robust and fully funded domestic refugee resettlement program that is able to receive higher numbers of Syrians while continuing to serve other refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied immigrant children, victims of trafficking and other vulnerable populations. In FY2011 and FY2012, the U.S. resettled a total of 60 Syrians despite staggering levels of displacement. While proposed FY2014 resettlement numbers from the region are higher, the gravity of the Syrian refugee crisis demands a more robust response. The United States should work to safely, swiftly, and effectively to resettle Syrian refugees as testament to our national commitment to refugee protection and an effective demonstration of burden-sharing with refugee-hosting states in the region such as Turkey and Jordan.
Increased federal funding is necessary in order to equip the sort of public-private partnerships at the heart of our nation’s refugee-resettlement system, such as those embodied in the work of Episcopal Migration Ministries, to respond adequately to the special challenges presented in resettling Syrian refugees. These refugees often have suffered torture and other forms of extreme violence and many families have lost breadwinners. These factors frequently require extended case management and mental health services in order to give them the best chance of success and a firm foundation in their receiving communities. The U.S. government also should consider the needs of Iraqi refugees who were awaiting resettlement in Syria, and should seek to honor our nation’s commitment to these refugees.
We hope that this hearing moves our national conversation and actions towards the security and peace that we seek for the people of Syria. Thank you for carrying the costly burden of public service, and for the opportunity to submit these views to the Committee.
- Legislative and Administrative Updates
Immigration Reform in the House Update
While the beginning of 2014 has not seen the action on immigration reform that many had hoped, there has been significant movement. In late January, the House leadership introduced their principles for immigration reform. In marked departure from previous statements of policy, these principles acknowledged the broken nature of our immigration system, included access to citizenship for DREAMers, and outlined a potential pathway to legal status for some members of the undocumented community. While these principles differ in many important ways from the resolutions of The Episcopal Church, this is a welcome step towards substantive discussion, debate, and a solution to our nation’s broken immigration system. The Episcopal Church remains committed to finding a legislative resolution and to working with all partners willing to meaningfully reform our immigration laws so that they protect families, offer access to citizenship, and respect the dignity of all human beings.
To learn more about these principles and how they align with our principles as a Church, check out the resources below, including my discussion of these principles with Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of North Carolina.
- The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry interviews Katie Conway, Immigration and Refugee Policy Analyst for the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, about the importance of speaking out now to the United States House of Representatives on immigration policy issues
- Click here to read a summary of all the House immigration bills that have passed the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees and see how they align with Episcopal Church policies
- The Interfaith Immigration Coalition has compiled summaries of all the immigration related bills currently before the House
The Obama Administration Issues Welcome Exemptions to the Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds (TRIG) Allowing Vulnerable Refugees to Access Protection
In early February, the Obama Administration announced two new discretionary exemptions from the overly-broad terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG) of U.S. immigration law. The TRIG bars, as they are known, have blocked thousands of genuine refuges and asylum seekers from protection since Congress enacted legislation in 2001 that significantly broadened the definition of “terrorist activity.”
Because the definition is so broad, it encompasses some activities that hold no real-life connections to terrorism. For example, under this current interpretation of these bars any individual with a dangerous weapon who uses it for anything other than “personal monetary gain” is a terrorist, and two of these individuals working together are considered a terrorist group. These definitions are so broad, in fact, that in 2008 Congress had to revise the TRIG bars so that religious and ethnic minority groups that resisted the brutal Burmese regime, as well as Cubans who provided support to those who fought against Fidel Castro, Hmong who fought with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, and members of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress were not unfairly labeled as “terrorists” and barred from seeking protection and resettlement in the United States.
These exemptions would allow refugees and asylum seekers who gave “insignificant assistance” to certain terrorist organizations, such as serving a meal to soldiers occupying their town, or had “incidental contact,” such as running a store where a soldier or army member happened to shop, access to resettlement in the United States. Like all refugees and asylum seekers, these exemptions only apply to those deemed neither a national security or public safety risk and these individuals must pass all relevant background and security checks.
These exemptions will have lifesaving impacts for many refugees but the implications for the Syrian context are especially heartening. Without these exemptions family members who served meals to visiting members of the family in the Free Syrian Army, individuals who indiscriminately distributed humanitarian assistance to those fleeing active conflict zones, business-owners whose shop or restaurants included clients from rebel groups, and individuals who had to pay rebel groups to escape Syria would have been barred from refugee protection. These exemptions will also assist many of the approximately 3,000 people in the United States who have already passed the difficult test to prove they are bona fide asylees and refugees, but who continue to be barred from becoming permanent residents of the United States and reuniting with their families.
Additional Resources on This Issue:
- Human Rights First Factsheet on TRIG and protection implications for Syrian refugees
- Broad terrorism policies unfairly target victims, By Melanie Nezer, The Hill, 2/13/14
- Immigration in the News
- Anti-trafficking efforts intensify in advance of Super Bowl By Lynette Wilson Episcopal News Service, 1/28/14
- Why Immigration Reform Matters By George F. Will The Washington Post, 2/13/14
- Immigrants Welcome Here By David Bornstein The New York Times, 2/19/14
- Border Patrol's use of deadly force criticized in report By Brian Bennett The Los Angeles Times, 2/27/14
- To learn more about Episcopal Migration Ministries work to welcome refugees into diocese across the country, watch this inspiring video
- Learn more about work across The Church to combat human trafficking at the Episcopalians Against Human Trafficking Facebook Page
- 5 Facts About the Child Tax Credit that you should know
- The Cost of Doing Nothing: Dollars, Lives, and Opportunities Lost in the Wait for Immigration Reform Read the fascinating report from Immigration Policy Center, complete with awesome info graphics