WASHINGTON (Sept. 24, 2012) — Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-05) this week introduced the “Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act,” which increases coordination and provides much-needed resources for new Americans fleeing war, persecution, or natural disaster.
The bill streamlines refugee processing abroad, while taking advantage of that processing time to provide refugees with English classes and work orientation training. It also allows refugees to be admitted to the United States as lawful permanent residents, saving scarce government and non-governmental organization (NGO) resources.
The bill strengthens refugee integration into local communities. In particular, it expands the public-private Matching Grant program, which has been highly successful in helping refugees become economically self-sufficient.
“America’s refugee program should reflect our values of generosity and inclusion for all Americans—new and old. The ‘Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act’ achieves this by making sure refugee families have the resources they need to be self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Strengthening support not only helps the 34,000 refugees who have come to Minnesota since 2000, but improves America’s image abroad.”
According to the University of Minnesota, Minnesota has historically had the highest number of refugees per capita. Between 1999 and 2007, over 34,000 people were resettled in Minnesota, from 30 different countries. Over 50,000 Somalis alone—many of them refugee–currently live in Minnesota.
The bill has earned praise and support from religious and refugee groups in Minnesota and throughout the country:
Refugee Council USA
“As a coalition of organizations focused on refugee protection, we thank Rep. Ellison for introducing the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act. For decades, the United States refugee resettlement program has successfully resettled millions of the world’s most vulnerable, while also facing many challenges. This bill would address many of the issues that would allow refugees to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible with the support of local communities. This Act recognizes that the refugee resettlement program is a successful public-private partnership that needs to be strengthened. We strongly support the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act and hope Congress will act as quickly as possible to pass this bill. ” — Dan Kosten, Chair, Refugee Council USA (RCUSA)
“I applaud Representative Ellison for introducing a bill that would address the many challenges refugees face in the United States. By taking a broad approach at reforming the resettlement program, the bill would reaffirm U.S. commitment to not only welcoming the most vulnerable to our shores but also ensuring they get on their feet as quickly as possible. Refugees have faced many difficulties throughout their lives but are resilient and contributing members of our communities. This bill sends a strong message that government programs can and should be reformed to be as effective as possible in serving the most vulnerable in our society,” said Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief.
World Relief MN
World Relief Minnesota favors the passage of the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act. With the support of local communities and business, many refugees have settled and made Minnesota their home. They’ve had to overcome tremendous difficulties to find jobs and integrate in the local community and they have become contributing members of our society. We anticipate that as we receive more refugee arrivals, the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act will help to address some of the challenges refugees face and ensure that refugees thrive with the support of communities once here.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
“Since 1939, LIRS has worked to welcome and resettle refugees into American communities,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “We applaud Rep. Ellison’s Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act, which builds on an amazing legacy of generations of refugees and immigrants who have been welcomed to our shores. We look forward to working with our supporters and Congress to advance this important legislation that will make our nation stronger and more vibrant.”
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
“We are committed to provide refugees fleeing persecution in their homelands a chance to rebuild their lives in safety and an opportunity for a productive future in the U.S. USCRI supports the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act H.R., as it seeks to ensure that refugees get adequate support and the tools they need to succeed. USCRI thanks Rep. Ellison for his commitment to refugees and welcoming communities.” — Lavinia Limon, President and CEO
Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM)
When we reach out to our most vulnerable neighbors, America is at its best. By welcoming refugees and asylees, the United States brings highly motivated newcomers to our shores in an organized, secure way that sets the stage for them to start giving back to America almost as soon as they arrive. Welcoming refugees and asylees also saves people who flee their home countries because they have no other choice. Recently, the doors to this life-saving assistance have begun to open wider for people who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act is an important step forward for all refugees. It deserves the support of all Americans, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. — Neil Grungras, Founder and Executive Director
Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC)
“On behalf of the Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC) and our network of African community-based organizations, I would like to thank you for introducing the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act. Since 1975 the United States has resettled over three million refugees worldwide, making it the largest resettlement country. However these three plus decades have seen little in the way of reform to a program that has outgrown its original mandate and population of concern. This bill would not only bring the refugee resettlement program up to date, but it would also enhance program services by addressing key issues that have stifled the quick integration of resettled refugees. ECDC and our network strongly support Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act and hope Congress will enact the bill as soon as possible.” — Tsehaye Teferra, Ph.D., President
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
“HIAS, the migration and refugee agency of the American Jewish community, urges members of Congress to support the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act, and thanks Congressman Keith Ellison for introducing this thoughtful, practical, and much needed legislation.
“The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act would reform the refugee resettlement program by bringing it up-to-date to meet the needs of refugees and the communities across the U.S. that receive and welcome them. By streamlining refugee processing and ensuring coordination among the government agencies involved in refugee resettlement, the bill would help the U.S. respond to emergencies and offer safe haven to refugees without unnecessarily prolonging the admissions process.
“The bill also would build on successful programs that provide refugees with English language classes while they are waiting abroad to be processed, help refugees obtain professional certifications for which they are qualified, and help ensure that refugees are provided with mental health counseling if needed. These measures would help refugees to more quickly become self-sufficient and fully integrated into American society. This would benefit not only refugees, but the communities in the U.S. where they are rebuilding their lives.
“In our more than 130-year history, guided by Jewish values, HIAS has assisted millions of refugees and migrants escaping violence, repression, and poverty to find safety and security. HIAS is a partner in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and helps refugees start their lives and integrate in their new communities through a network of local service agencies across the country.
Church World Service
“As one of the nine national voluntary agencies designated by the State Department to resettle refugees in the United States, and as a network of participating denominations and 36 refugee resettlement affiliates and local offices across the country, Church World Service expresses our support for Rep. Keith Ellison’s Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act.
“Since the founding of this country, refugees fleeing persecution have found freedom and safety in the United States. The U.S. refugee program is a public / private partnership in which communities, schools, religious congregations and employers across the country welcome refugees and help them integrate. In turn, refugees bring their innovative skills, diverse cultures and dedicated work ethic to their new communities, improving quality of life for all.
“Church World Service endorses the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act because it would update policies to foster long-term integration success. If enacted, the bill would allow refugees resettled in the United States to arrive with a green card instead of having to wait a year to even apply, thus expediting the process of finding a job. The bill would also extend refugees’ access to assistance from eight to twelve months and extend case management services for refugees who are particularly vulnerable.
“In addition, the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act would expand access to pre-arrival English classes, which have been shown to expedite integration, and would reunite separated families and expedite refugee security checks. The bill would also assist refugees with housing, employment training and recertification, transportation, child care and mental health services. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act would also establish an emergency fund to help communities meet the needs of refugees in unforeseen circumstances. The bill would also help children who are victims of serious crimes, and would prevent elderly and disabled from having their assistance expire.
“Church World Service urges all members of the House of Representatives to support and co-sponsor the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act. With refugees, non-profit organizations, and the U.S. government working together, we can provide protection, foster integration, and further the life-saving program that is the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
The Advocates for Human Rights
“The Advocates for Human Rights is honored to support the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act, a bill which if enacted will take important steps toward ensuring that the United States continues to support its commitment to refugee protection. The Advocates for Human Rights is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights. For nearly 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has provided immigration legal assistance to asylum seekers and detained immigrants in the Upper Midwest, providing free legal services with the help of hundreds of pro bono attorneys.
“Protection of refugees is among the United States’ greatest accomplishments and highest responsibilities. Standing as a beacon of freedom and hope throughout the world, the United States puts our values into action each time we meet our obligations to protect victims of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. At heart, refugee protection is about giving individual people the chance to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
“The United States long has been committed to ensuring that refugees to our shores find a chance to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Supporting the integration of refugees is at the core of that commitment. The founding principles of modern refugee protection, articulated in the U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, recognize that integration is an essential part of refugee protection. Ensuring that refugees enjoy fundamental rights, such as the freedom of association; that they are able to engage in gainful employment; and that they enjoy access to the social safety net without discrimination are at the heart of our obligations. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act ensures that we can fulfill this critical part of refugee protection. This commonsense bill ensures that those who are most vulnerable in our community have the tools they need to rebuild their lives in dignity and to become fully integrated members of our community.
“Most refugees to the United States quickly embark on the path toward self-sufficiency. Despite enormous hurdles – recovering from the torture they suffered at the hands of the repressive regimes they have fled, learning the language of their new home, and rebuilding the capital they were forced to abandon – refugees do remarkably well. Many of our clients come to us with remarkable professional accomplishments in their home countries, but lack the ability to navigate the new employment landscape in which they find themselves. In order to succeed, they need help learning how to search for jobs, how to translate their experience into the U.S. job market, and how to become retrained or recertified in their professions. Clients of The Advocates for Human Rights have gone on to successful careers as doctors and laborers, journalists and tailors, nurses and business owners. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act will provide essential resources, including case management and refugee integration grants, to support refugees on their journey toward regaining self-sufficiency.
“The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act also ensures that those who fled the horrors of war and repression but who are unable to work can live their lives in dignity. While most refugees are able to attain self-sufficiency, some simply cannot due to age, disability, or, too often, the wounds which resulted in their flight. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act’s restoration of permanent SSI eligibility for those refugees is just, humane, and essential to providing meaningful refugee protection.
“One of the most difficult tasks our clients face is rebuilding their families in their new homes. Many of The Advocates’ clients are forced to flee without their spouses or children. When families are reunified, often after years of separation, they often face tremendous financial strain. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act’s expansion of the basic financial supports to newly arrived refugees, including cash payments, refugee integration programs, and Matching Grant program, would improve these families’ resiliency and the chances of successful integration into the United States.
“The Advocates for Human Rights also supports the commonsense provision to eliminate the redundant bureaucratic step of applying first for refugee or asylum status and then, one year later, for lawful permanent resident status. The existing two-step process is a relic of the earliest days of refugee protection and makes no sense in today’s immigration system. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act’s would admit refugees and asylum seekers as permanent residents, eliminating an extraneous application procedure and the bureaucracy needed to administer it and would move refugees more quickly toward citizenship and full integration into the United States.
“Thank you for sponsoring the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act and for your tireless dedication to the protection of the human rights of all persons.”
The Episcopal Church
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”-Matthew 25:35
“Rooted in the gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and decades of refugee resettlement experience, the Episcopal Church applauds the introduction of the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act H.R.
“Episcopal Migration Ministries has worked in public-private partnership with the U.S. Government to resettle thousands of refugees since the inception the program in1980. In the decades since this partnership began, however, we have witnessed changing trends in the refugee populations arriving, welcoming more refugees with serious medical conditions, refugees who are victims of torture and severe forms of violence, single females heads of household, and an increasing diversity of ethnicities and languages. In 2011 alone, Episcopal Migration Ministries resettled refugees from 32 countries, highlighting the need to modernize the refugee resettlement program to effectively serve multiple groups of refugees and support their successful integration. The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act H.R.__ would address many of the obstacles that can delay refugee integration by providing pre-arrival English classes, admitting refugees as permanent residents, and aiding refugee self-sufficiency through extended case management services, recertification opportunities, and increasing assistance for housing and transportation. This bill would also extend services for elderly and disabled refugees and children who are victims of serious crimes.
“The Episcopal Church strongly supports the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act H.R. and the innovations it brings to this life saving program. We thank Representative Ellison for his leadership on this issue and his dedication to the continued success of refugees and the communities that welcome them. “
Center for Victims of Torture
“Survivors of torture often feel as if they have ‘lost themselves’ as torture itself is an attack on all aspects of a person’s life. A vital component of their rehabilitation process is rebuilding their personal and community resources. The ‘Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act,’ introduced by Rep. Ellison, would assist survivors in their healing process by expanding programs that improve community supports for refugees and smooth their process of becoming self-sufficient and integrated. The bill would enhance the availability of community resources by creating a grant program to address needs such as transportation, employment training, child care, and mental health services. The bill also expands the highly successful Match-Grant program, a public – private partnership designed to promote refugees’ economic self-sufficiency. The Center for Victims of Torture thanks Rep. Ellison for his leadership and support for refugees and survivors of torture.”