Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Block Religious Discrimination Against Refugees and Immigrants
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today welcomed the introduction of the Freedom of Religion Act, a piece of legislation that would ensure that no individual can be denied entry to the United States on the basis of his or her religion. The bipartisan legislation was introduced today by Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Mike Honda (D-CA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and André Carson (D-IN).
“Barring individuals because of their faith—including asylum seekers and those fleeing violence—goes against the United States’ long history as a nation that protects the persecuted,” said Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley. “This bipartisan legislation is an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that the United States will not play politics with refugees’ lives.”
Today’s legislation, sponsored by more than fifty members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, pushes back on suggestions that the United States implement a screening system that would bar all Muslims from entering the United States. The legislation comes at a time when the world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.
Last month, Human Rights First released a new report detailing the slow progress the Obama Administration has made toward its goal of resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. The report outlines how U.S. processing of resettlement cases, as well as processing of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications from individuals who worked with the U.S. military, have been hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps, making it difficult for the United States to meet its minimal commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. Addressing these backlogs, as detailed in the report, would not undermine the security of the process; rather it would strengthen the integrity of the process which includes extensive security vetting as outlined in an appendix to the report.
National security experts have explained that increased U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees would protect the stability of important U.S. allies in the region, as detailed in Human Rights First’s February report, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership.” A December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security confirms that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.
A bipartisan group of former humanitarian and national security officials has recommended that the United States resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has also recommended that the United States resettle 100,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees.