Lofgren statement in opposition to Republican attack on refugees

March 16, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) issued the following statement today during markup in opposition to H.R. 4731, a Republican bill to attack refugees and the programs that serve them:

"This markup falls during a week that will end with the Republicans passing a partisan resolution condemning executive actions meant to bring some sense of sanity to our broken immigration system.  And it comes amidst a Presidential nomination season rife with vile anti-immigrant rhetoric.

"The Republican proposal we are considering today is more of the same.  It is a fundamental attack on refugees and the programs that serve them.  It is anti-American, isolationist, and appears to be driven by xenophobia.

"This bill does nothing to repair our broken immigration system.  It does not enhance security or address any current problem in our refugee programs.  It is based on the faulty premise that refugees pose a danger, and therefore need to be under continual surveillance.  It fails to recognize that refugees are fleeing persecution; they are victims to whom we have an obligation morally and legally to provide protection and welcome into our communities.

"We are in a worldwide refugee crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen since the end of World War II.  Yet, this bill reduces the number of refugee admissions by nearly one third of FY 2016 levels.  It strips the President of his ability to set, in consultation with Congress, the annual refugee target admissions level.  And when it does that, it severely hampers the ability of the United States to respond to international crises.

"Since the 1970s, the America has accepted millions of refugees.  Under President Reagan in the 1980s, the U.S. resettled hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees, at times taking in more than 10,000 per month.  In the 1990s, we accepted hundreds of thousands of political refugees from the former Soviet Union.  Refugees from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and around the world have become enormous contributors to the U.S. economy and part of the fabric of our country, our society, and my district.

"The Executive authority to set the refugee ceiling was proposed and signed into law as part of the Refugee Act of 1980.  I think we can all agree that Congress is not the most nimble decision-making body.  But this bill would establish a relatively low refugee level and vest Congress with the sole authority to lift the refugee ceiling, with no real exception for emergencies.

"At this moment of great need, I proposed that we resettle 200,000 refugees in 2016.  While I recognize that that's an ambitious goal, the point is we should be doing more and not less.  The level this bill sets is miserly and sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world, relinquishing our historic leadership in refugee protection.

"The bill would have us prioritize religious minorities for refugee resettlement as a matter of law.  That's a radical departure from established refugee law that provides for protection from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. This bill lifts one of those grounds—religion—above all others.  In doing so, we would de-prioritize Iraqi and Afghanis who supported U.S. Armed Forces.  A woman fleeing sex enslavement by Boko Haram or female genital mutilation would likely be passed over.  A political dissident from North Korea would find no refuge in America because he is not a religious minority.

"Even more alarming, this provision is reminiscent of prior proposals effectively prioritizing Christian refugees.  It appears to be crafted to exclude Muslims from Middle Eastern countries. 

"Another related provision allows any action by governors and local legislatures to deny refugee placement in their communities – a restriction that applies to no other group of immigrants.  This provision sends the message that refugees are undesirable and unwelcome in our communities.  The desire to "keep out" refugees is not rooted in anything other than xenophobia, which is the kind of base emotion and rhetoric consistent of the frontrunner of the Trump Republican party.  

"Perhaps most perniciously, this bill would essentially require refugees to re-apply years after having established that they suffered persecution.  The process proposed in the bill would make refugees re-tell their stories, perhaps five years after their first interview.  And if they failed to re-establish their eligibility for any reason, they'd be forced to return to the country where they were tortured or fear persecution. 

"There's no justification advanced for this new requirement, which would re-traumatize those who have already proven themselves to be refugees.  And this is after refugees are subject to 18-24 months of the most thorough screening any traveler to America undergoes before ever setting foot on U.S. soil.  This is after the bill calls for refuges to be held in temporary status for an extended period of time.  The bill prolongs the period of instability for refugees and delays them from starting their lives anew.

"Just over 75 years ago, a ship called the St. Louis, carrying nearly a thousand Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, sailed so close to the United States that passengers could see the lights of Miami.  But rather than welcome these refugees, America turned them away.  Over 250 of these Jewish refugees perished, killed by Nazi's when they were forcibly returned to Europe.

"Making sure that such a tragedy never happens again has become the bedrock of U.S. refugee and asylum law and policy.  But this bill upends this foundational principle and endangers refugees all over the world. 

"I urge my colleagues to join me in opposition to the bill.  I thank the Chairman and yield back the balance of my time."

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