New Bill Would Make Life Harder for Refugees “For No Good Reason”

By Rachel Nusbaum,

New Bill Would Make Life Harder for Refugees “For No Good Reason”

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

(Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)

On Monday, March 14, Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Raul Labrador introduced H.R. 4731, the "Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act". Despite its benign-sounding title, this pernicious legislation would reduce the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. and allow state and local governments to refuse to resettle refugees, along with other harmful provisions.

“In addition to severely limiting our government’s ability to respond to refugee emergencies in the ways that best support our foreign policy and humanitarian objectives, this bill sends a terrible message to the few refugees lucky enough to be given the chance to rebuild their lives here in safety and freedom: you may have been admitted lawfully but you are not wanted or welcome,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS.

“Even considering such a bill tarnishes America’s proud tradition as a beacon of hope and freedom,” Nezer said.

As HIAS wrote in a statement to the House Judiciary Committee, “the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act would, for no good reason, simply make life harder for refugees who have already endured hardship and tragedy, losing homes, loved ones, and the lives they knew, and have met the rigorous requirements to be resettled in the U.S. The bill imposes expensive and unnecessary burdens on the Department of Homeland Security and undermines U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian aid objectives.”

“This bill really punishes refugees who have gone through the process and done everything right. The United States only resettles a small fraction of all refugees, some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. They’ve been through all the security requirements, and all the legal requirements, in order to get here,” Nezer said.

If enacted, this legislation would delay a resettled refugee’s ability to get a green card by two additional years, which would require them to constantly update their work permits and travel documents for their first three years in the United States--a considerable burden for families just seeking to start over. It would also cause delays in family reunification, potentially leaving a refugee’s family members stranded for years.

Another item of concern, according to Nezer, is that the bill treats political dissidents like actual criminals. Repressive regimes often arrest opposition figures and critics on trumped-up charges --in fact, this is often part of the persecution refugees are fleeing. Instead of allowing U.S. security officials to distinguish between political persecution and an actual criminal history, however, this bill would make people targeted in this way ineligible for the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

According to Refugee Council USA, a coalition of US-based refugee protection organizations, H.R. 4731 would “undermine the U.S. and UN efforts to resettle and protect all refugees based on their vulnerability,” doing so “under the guise of prioritizing religious minorities from countries of particular concern.”

“This bill essentially punishes refugees who make it to the United States and ties the hands of the United States in pursuing its humanitarian and foreign policy objectives abroad,” said Nezer. “What purpose does that serve?”