At present there are roughly 20 million refugees in this world, which is a number so large it is hard to wrap one’s mind around… but one can always try (http://www.unhcr.org/refugees.html). Let’s try to make this number more understandable by looking at our home state. CA has an estimated population of 39,523,613 million making 20 million individuals just over half of our state’s residents. San Diego County has an estimated population of 3,316,192 meaning that six San Diego Countys would be roughly the number of refugees in this world and it would take 133 Escondidos to equal the number of peoples on our planet that have had to flee their homes (All population data taken from: http://www.dof.ca.gov/Forecasting/Demographics/Estimates/E-5/ – download the spreadsheet to look at the population estimates).
It should be noted that this number of refugees does not count those individuals who are displaced within their own countries or who fled but do not meet the definition of a refugee, by some estimates the number of people who have fled their homes is closer to 40 million (source: Washington Post article, link is below). Needless to say, we are living through a time period which will be remembered for the extreme number of refugees and displaced peoples; some experts regard our current situation as the worst in recorded history while others regard the world’s situation as the worst since WWII (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/06/18/graphic-the-worlds-refugee-crisis-is-the-worst-in-recorded-history/?utm_term=.b20a3a0e2fd2, http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/20/world/world-refugee-day-worst-crisis-in-history/index.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jan-egeland/refugee-crisis-wwii-aid-_b_5791776.html).
As noted there is a definition for what it means to be a refugee. This definition was crafted at a United Nations Conference in 1951 and updated in 1961, the definition reads as follows: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it,” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/who-is-a-refugee-1.1191503). Phrased a bit more simply, “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries,” (http://www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee/). If you are curious what the definitions and differences between someone with refugee versus asylum status versus internally displaced person are, then go to: http://www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee/.
With so many people in dire need, it made sense when President Obama, in 2015, decided to increase the number of refugees America accepts each year, from a maximum of 70,000 to 100,000 (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/world/europe/us-to-increase-admission-of-refugees-to-100000-in-2017-kerry-says.html). As then Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “This step that I am announcing today, I believe, is in keeping with the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope,” (source: see above).
Oh how long ago those days seem… HR 2826 would change our nation’s stance on refugees and this bill has been voted to come out of committee and be voted on by the full House, by our Rep. Hunter. Five key changes this bill puts forward are as follows: 1) the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. is changed, 2) preferential status is given to certain groups, 3) the role of the states and localities is altered 4) the definition of refugee is changed and 5) the assumption that refugees are fraudulent and dangerous is present within the bill. For the full text of the bill: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2826/text?r=1
Change # 1) the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. is changed. As noted, as of now the maximum number of refugees allowed into the US each year is 100,000. This bill changes that to 50,000 and gives the President the prerogative, after consulting with Congress, to increase or reduce this number as deemed appropriate, “SEC. 2. Annual adjustment of the number of admissible refugees. (a) In general.—Section 207(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1157(a)(2)) is amended by striking all that follows after ‘shall be’ and inserting the following: ‘50,000. The President may, after appropriate consultation, submit a recommendation to Congress for the revision of such number not later than 6 months prior to the beginning of such fiscal year, setting forth the justification for such revision due to humanitarian concerns or that such revision is otherwise in the national interest,’” (source: see above).
Change # 2) preferential status is given to certain groups. At present Christians from the Middle East do not receive preference or priority when it comes to receiving refugee status, something that the conservative right finds abhorrent (http://www.newsmax.com/BillDonohue/christian-christians-refugee-u-n-/2017/02/01/id/771455/). So it should come as no surprise that HR 2826 would boldly give preferential status to those with a minority religion, “SEC. 4. Priority consideration for certain applicants for refugee status. ‘(6) When processing refugee applications from individuals seeking refuge from a country listed as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ in the annual report of the Commission on International Religious Freedom under section 203 of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for the year prior to the current year, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall grant priority consideration to such applicants whose claims are based on persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion by reason of those applicants being practitioners of a minority religion in the country from which they sought refuge,’” (source: see above).
Change # 3) the role of the states and localities is altered… it is not too dramatic to say that this bill gets the US one step closer to sanctioned xenophobia, “SEC. 9. Limitation on resettlement. “(g) Limitation on resettlement.— Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, for a fiscal year, the resettlement of any refugee may not be provided for— ‘(1) in any State in which the Governor of that State or the State legislature have taken any action formally disapproving of resettlement in that State; or ‘(2) in any locality where the chief executive of that locality’s government, or the local legislature, has taken any action formally disapproving of resettlement in that locality,’” (source: see above).
Change # 4) the definition of refugee is changed. If you review the United Nations definition of a refugee you will notice that a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” is central to the definition, however if HR 2826 became law then a person would actually have to be a victim of persecution before being eligible for refugee status… no longer would the US follow the internationally recognized definition and people fleeing to protect themselves, to prevent themselves from becoming victims of violence would no longer be eligible for refugee status in the USA. “SEC. 13. Limitation on qualification as a refugee. Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)) is amended by inserting ‘For purposes of this paragraph, a person may not be considered a refugee solely or in part because the person is displaced due to, or is fleeing from, violence in the country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, the country in which such person last habitually resided, if that violence is not specifically directed at the person, or, if it is directed specifically at the person, it is not directed at the person on account of that person’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,’” (source: see above). It should be noted that if the person seeking refugee status is a religious minority (presumably Christian), then having “well-founded fear of persecution” is sufficient to quality for refugee status, see change #2 and read the text of the bill.
Change # 5) the assumption that refugees are fraudulent and dangerous is present within the bill, as the sections shown below demonstrate. While there is nothing wrong with determining how and where fraud occurs, the final point, SEC 16(C) sheds light on the presumptions behind this bill. “SEC. 10. Benefit Fraud Assessment. Not later than 540 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shall— (1) complete a study on the processing of refugees by officers and employees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services including an identification of the most common ways in which fraud occurs in such processing and recommendations for the prevention of fraud in such processing; and (2) submit a report on such study to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate.
SEC. 11. Document fraud detection program. Not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall establish a program for detecting the use of fraudulent documents in applications for admission as a refugee, including— (1) placement of Fraud Detection and National Security officials who are under the direction of the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at initial refugee screening in conjunction with the resettlement agency and with the authority to hold a refugee application in abeyance until any fraud or national security concerns are resolved; and (2) creation of a searchable database of scanned and categorized documents proffered by applicants at initial refugee screening to allow for discovery of fraud trends and random translation verification within such documents.
SEC. 12. Recording of Interviews to Protect Refugees and Prevent Fraud[.]….
SEC. 16. GAO report on U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall conduct a review and report to Congress on the following: (1) The security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including an examination of— (A) how the U.S. Government conducts security screening and background checks, including the agencies or U.S. Government partners involved and the systems and databases used; (B) how the U.S. Government determines whether applicants are eligible for refugee resettlement and admissible to the United States; and (C) the number of individuals who were admitted into the United States as refugees and subsequently convicted as a result of a terrorism-related investigation by the U.S. Government since fiscal year 2006,” (source: see above).
As these proposed changes show, this bill is not in keeping with, “the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/world/europe/us-to-increase-admission-of-refugees-to-100000-in-2017-kerry-says.html). Let us contact Rep. Hunter and let him know that we do not stand behind this bill and neither should he.