03.17.10

Leahy Speaks About Efforts On Behalf Of Refugees At Capitol Hill Conference

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined advocates on Capitol Hill Wednesday at an event sponsored by Refugees International to highlight the future of Iraqi refugees and international displaced persons in the Iraq region.  Leahy has been a longtime leader in Congress in efforts to help refugees seeking safe harbor in the United States.  Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, and of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leahy was joined at the event by Antonio Guterres, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, and Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  This month marks the seven-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, and today is the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Refugee Act of 1980, landmark legislation to establish the refugee admission and asylum system in the United States.

“There has been significant humanitarian, political and military progress in Iraq, and the withdrawal of U.S. military forces has begun.  But Iraq remains a dangerous, unstable country without the rule of law in many areas, and the security situation could become worse as U.S. troops come home,” said Leahy.  “Left behind are the refugees, trapped in poverty and uncertainty in neighboring countries which tolerate them but where they face daily hardships from overcrowding, water scarcity, unemployment, lack of shelter, and the constant fear of eviction or deportation.”

On Monday, Leahy introduced the Refugee Protection Act, which will provide increased protections for refugees and asylum seekers.  The legislation eliminates the one year waiting period for refugees and asylum seekers to apply for a green card, and authorizes the Secretary of State to designate certain vulnerable groups as eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees.  The Refugee Protection Act also clarifies the law to ensure that innocent asylum seekers and refugees are not unfairly denied protection as a result of the materials support and terrorism bars in law, while ensuring that those with actual ties to terrorist activity will continue to be denied entry to the United States.  The legislation is cosponsored by Levin, and by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), and Roland Burris (D-Ill.).

“It is time to renew America’s commitment to the Refugee Convention, and to bring our law back into compliance with the Convention’s promise of protection,” Leahy said of the legislation.  “Our Nation is a leader among the asylum-providing countries, and our communities have embraced refugees and asylum seekers, welcoming them as Americans.  Our laws must now match that humanitarian spirit.”

The legislation is backed by Refugees International, which hosted the event Wednesday, and more than 20 national organizations that support refugee resettlement programs, including the American Bar Association, Amnesty international USA, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Immigration Equality, Refugees Council USA, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates, and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.  The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed support for the legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider two refugee-related bills authored by Leahy and Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) during a business meeting on Thursday – the Refugee Opportunity Act and the Return of Talent Act.

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