Chairman Goodlatte: The United States has a generous refugee program and has provided millions of people fleeing persecution with safe haven. And while we should continue that great tradition, it is clear that our refugee laws are being abused and need to be reformed.
The Refugee Act of 1980 created our current refugee resettlement process, in which the President sets the annual limit for the number of refugees the United States can resettle during the next fiscal year.
And the Act set forth who could be considered admissible as a refugee and how and when those refugees could adjust to lawful permanent resident status. In addition, the Act put in place a process for the federal government to work through nongovernmental agencies to resettle refugees.
Thirty-six years later, Americans are voicing a growing number of concerns about how many, and the way, refugees are admitted to the United States, as well as what happens once they are admitted.
But the Federal government, under this Administration, has done little to respect those concerns.
When a State or locality expresses security concerns about refugee resettlement, the current Administration simply repeats the talking point that ‘refugees undergo the most rigorous background checks of any immigrant to the United States.’ This ignores the warnings of several of the Administration’s own security officials that if there is no information regarding a potential refugee in the databases that are checked, then no derogatory information will show up during the check. And it ignores the fact that in many failed states, like Syria, there is no reliable information about refugees.
Considering the terrorist threats facing our Nation, we have a right to be concerned about resettlement of refugees from countries that are hotbeds of terrorist activity.
And if a State or locality expresses concerns about the costs of refugee resettlement or the lack of available employment opportunities, this Administration may pay lip service to the locality by sending a representative to try to placate the community. But in the end, it is very telling that the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard, told the Immigration Subcommittee that “the Federal government has the right to resettle refugees all across America….” And that is exactly what is happening, despite concerns raised by the affected communities.
I know that many resettlement organizations do wonderful and necessary work. But essentially ignoring the pleas of communities across the U.S. and leaving refugee resettlement decisions to the Administration is no longer a viable option.
Also ripe for change is the process by which the annual refugee ceiling it set.
Currently the President sets the refugee ceiling after “appropriate consultation with Congress.” But such “appropriate consultation” has become simply a September meeting between the Secretary of State and certain Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, at which the Secretary tells us how many refugees the President has decided can be admitted. So Congress has no real say in any numerical decisions.
And last year, even when the Secretary did provide us a number during the consultation, the final FY 2016 determination by the President was 10,000 more than what Secretary Kerry had indicated just days before.
So among its many reforms, the bill we are considering today, H.R. 4731, sets an annual limit for refugee admissions, curbing the President’s limitless power in this area. And the bill places the power in the hands of the States and localities to determine whether or not refugee resettlement is best for their communities.
The mass migration from the Middle East across Europe has rightly focused the world on the need to help those fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries. But simply because an individual flees his or her home country, does not mean that they should automatically qualify as a refugee under U.S. immigration law, or that they even want to be resettled in the U.S. In fact, the vast majority of those who have fled the Middle East in recent years would prefer to be repatriated once peace is achieved.
The Refugee Act of 1980 worked relatively well for several years. But after 36 years, it is time to make some needed reforms. H.R. 4731, the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act does just that. I thank the Gentleman from Idaho for his hard work on this legislation and thank all of our Members who provided input.
I urge my colleagues to support the bill and I yield back the balance of my time.
For more on today’s markup, click here.