WASHINGTON (August 4, 1999) -- Although worldwide refugee populations are increasing and Americans have shown a willingness to assist them, the U.S. government has dramatically cut back the number of refugees allowed into the country, the Chairman of the Bishops' Migration Committee told Congress today.
"The United States is increasingly abdicating its worldwide leadership role in refugee protection," Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden (NJ) told members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration.
Bishop DiMarzio reminded the Senators that admissions of refugees into the United States has fallen from 207,000 in 1980 to a ceiling of 78,000 for 1999.
"During the same time period, the number of refugees worldwide has increased from 5.7 million in 1980 to 13.5 million today," he said.
Bishop DiMarzio offered seven recommendations to the subcommittee which would directly or indirectly assist refugees and restore the United States' reputation as a leader in the area of refugee protection. He said the United States government:
- should accept at least 100,000 refugees per year, especially at a time when our country is "undergoing a period of unprecedented prosperity."
- must continue its past emphasis on family reunification. "Preserving families should remain the cornerstone of U.S. refugee policy."
- should continue the search, with the assistance of voluntary agencies, for innovative ways to identify and offer resettlement to refugees in situations where access to them is difficult.
- should strengthen the U.S. asylum system. Bishop DiMarzio urged that several of the harshest provisions of 1996 legislation be repealed.
- should increase assistance to refugees overseas, with special emphasis on Africa.
- should put special focus on the need to end wars in countries like Sudan, Angola, and the Congo Republic.
"Agencies, including ours, were deluged with offers of assistance for the Kosovars," he said.
Drawing public attention to refugee situations and fostering public support for refugees is part of the leadership role which the United States should exert more rigorously, Bishop DiMarzio suggested. He said that when Americans see people in desperate need, just as they did with the Kosovars, "they are quick to help."
Bishop DiMarzio told the Senators that many have asked why the response of the United States and other nations to the crisis in Kosovo has not been given to refugees in places like the Sudan, Sierra Leon, and the Congo where similar conflicts have simmered and flared for years.
"I will put the question another," he said. "Why can we not more often summon the strength of will and generosity of spirit that marked our Kosovo refugee effort? Do we respond to a refugee crisis only if we are militarily involved in the conflict that spawns it? Do we respond to a crisis only when it grabs the attention of the media and subsequently the nation?"
Bishop DiMarzio urged members of the subcommittee to renew U.S. commitment to refugee protection worldwide.
"By doing so, we serve our own vital interests and act as an example to other nations. Perhaps more importantly, we honor the democratic values we espouse, continue a tradition of compassion which has long characterized our nation, and offer a beacon of hope to suffering refugees around the world."
Text of Bishop DiMarzio's testimony may be found on the Web at: www.nccbuscc.org/comm/archives/99-185a.shtml.