Hetfield Calls on Congress to Help Administration Rebuild Refugee Admissions Program

“HIAS welcomes the [Biden] administration’s effort to rebuild the U.S. refugee program, especially after the program was completely eviscerated under the Trump administration,” HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said Thursday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security and Enforcement, during a hearing on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and complementary pathways for displaced people in this country.

Hetfield reiterated HIAS’ praise for President Biden’s decision to maintain a refugee admissions target of 125,000 for Fiscal Year 2024. “That number, however, is still aspirational,” he added. “While employment for refugees is plentiful, we are struggling with a national shortage of affordable housing. This is one reason why we welcome the advent of the Welcome Corps and private sponsorship, which will allow private citizens and community groups to join the resettlement agencies in welcoming refugees and finding suitable housing for them.”

In his testimony, Hetfield also called on Congress to renew the Lautenberg Amendment, which “has provided safe passage for Iranian religious minorities — Jews, Christians, and Baha’i and others — to escape religious persecution in Iran. Lawmakers have reauthorized it every year since 1989. “This year, however, we have a problem,” Hetfield said, noting that the House Judiciary Committee itself is currently blocking reauthorization for the first time in the program’s history. “Without this extension, no new applications can be submitted.”

The Lautenberg amendment also facilitates access to the refugee program for certain religious minorities from Ukraine, Hetfield pointed out, but because they were admitted to the U.S. with the status of humanitarian parole under the Uniting for Ukraine initiative, “they are in a state of legal limbo with no pathway to permanent residence. Some of them are in fact eligible and even registered for the Lautenberg program but have no way to access it as parolees,” he added. “We urge you to encourage the administration to prioritize giving parolees guidance on how to get out of limbo and pursue refugee status.” 

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