Executive Director, MRS
U.S. government policies toward refugees, asylum seekers, and trafficking victims have at least two common characteristics: (1) they have enjoyed bi-partisan support and (2) they depend upon a partnership between the government and the private sector, especially through faith communities. In some areas, this partnership has become a bit tarnished in recent years, but it is still a vital component to serving these vulnerable populations.
A great thing about our form of government is that we are provided these opportunities to engage in an open dialogue with government officials about public policies and to provide our perspectives. On behalf of the conference sponsors and participants, I want to express appreciation for the government officials who have made time to be with us this morning.
Though we may not always agree on what the policies should be toward people of concern to us, nor on how these policies are implemented, there is a mutual respect and appreciation for our respective roles and perspectives.
Those of our sisters and brothers who are persecuted and forced to leave their homes -- the refugees and asylum seekers -- and those who are in bondage -- the victims of human trafficking -- are of particular concern to the Church.
I will mention a few statements made by Church leaders to underscore this concern and then summarize for you what the bishops are advocating in the way of more responsive policies on behalf of these vulnerable people.
But, first, I want to acknowledge the efforts and the leadership of the members of this panel and their staffs and colleagues. I am quite certain that in this post-9/11 era, with the security of our nation a preeminent concern of the government, things could be even worse for refugees, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking were it not for these people providing a voice of reason and advocacy.
At the same time, the current reality is simply unacceptable and we can and must do more.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
The Bishops passed a resolution in June 2001, entitled Renewing U.S. Leadership in Refugee Protection. Keep in mind this was several months prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Let me read several excerpts from that document that underscore the bishops’ concerns…
We bishops of the United States … call upon our national leaders to strengthen U.S. leadership in global refugee protection. As a nation rich in material blessings, we have a moral obligation to assist and protect one of the most vulnerable of populations, the refugees.Two months later, in August 2001, in a report to Congress on proposed refugee admissions for FY2002, the Administration offered some welcomed encouragement by indicating its intention to reverse the downward trends in refugee admissions. In fact, the Administration said that it would increase refugee admissions from the 70,000 at that time to 90,000 in four years.
The Catholic Church holds a special interest in the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. We are proud of our nation’s role in the past fifty years in protecting refugees, having welcomed close to five million since 1951.
Notwithstanding our nation’s historic generosity in welcoming refugees, we are concerned with recent trends which indicate that the United States’ commitment to refugee protection is waning. Since 1992, refugee admissions into the United States have dropped by forty-two percent, while U.S. overseas assistance to refugees failed to keep pace with inflation. Further, U.S. law and policy impose more barriers to asylum seekers, including interdiction, detention -- even of women and children -- denial of work authorization, and summary exclusion of some who enter the United States requesting protection. Also, “detention” often means placing seekers of asylum into jails with U.S. criminal populations.
Our nation can and must do more for refugees, through increased support for refugees overseas and increased admissions of refugees into the United States. For those who request protection on our shores, our nation must reform the asylum system to allow all persons who articulate a credible fear of persecution to receive adequate legal counsel, to present their case promptly before an impartial judge and not to be unnecessarily detained.
In light of the worldwide needs of refugees without other solutions, the bishops had been advocating for an admissions level of more than 100,000 per year. Though the 90,000 was not where we thought it should be, it was certainly moving in the right direction. In fact, the bishops publicly expressed appreciation for this development.
Then, of course, the events of 9/11 changed our world dramatically. Refugee admissions to this country fell from almost 70,000 arrivals in FY2001, to less than 28,000 the following year. In this fiscal year, with only three months left, only 17,415 have entered. At this time last year there were 17,453 arrivals, so we are actually behind where we were a year ago. Unless dramatic and timely new initiatives are pursued aggressively, we will be lucky to see as many refugees admitted as last year.
Now, let’s be clear about something… there are some 15 million refugees in the world today and a growing number of them are languishing in camps without durable solutions. So, the decreasing admissions in the U.S. is having a direct and debilitating effect on the lives of refugees throughout the world. Additionally, our moral authority, needed to encourage other nations to protect refugees, comes into question. Look at the situation in China regarding its treatment of Korean refugees. How effective can the U.S. be in encouraging China to do the right thing for the refugees there?
Our advocacy efforts to grow the refugee admissions program can be grouped into three categories:
- Developing and mobilizing political support;
- Promoting more responsive capacity and infrastructure to identify and process for resettlement refugees in need; and
- Suggesting ways to improve the management of the admissions program.
- We communicate and meet regularly with officials in the government responsible for developing and implementing policies affecting refugees and asylum seekers. (These efforts are most effective when the voices of people like you from around the country are heard by your elected representatives.)
- We, along with a number of other advocates, encouraged the development of a bipartisan Refugee Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. I’m pleased to report that only after several months in existence, this Refugee Caucus has more than 40 members and is becoming an important voice in advocating the reversal in the downward trend in refugee admissions.
- And, in those areas where the Executive branch is not moving in the direction that is necessary to restore and expand the admissions program, we are working with members of Congress to pursue legislation.
- Improve UNHCR’s capacity to identify and refer to the U.S. program refugees in need of resettlement. DOS/PRM is doing this to an extent, but more can be done. For instance, UNHCR could be supported in its efforts to engage NGOs more directly in this work.
- The U.S.G.’s efforts to directly identify refugees in need of resettlement needs to be more dynamic and timely. Though the State Department is moving in this direction, there are many more groups in need to resettlement consideration than are on the USG radar screen and for the groups that are being considered the process is very lengthy. (We have been advocating for some of the residual Sudanese refugees in Kakuma for more than three years now. Likewise, we have been encouraging the State Department to resettle some of the hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees in West Africa, including thousands of URMs in Guinea, for nearly three years. Only recently is there an indication that some of these refugees are being considered and the numbers are far lower than the need.
- Though there has been a modest initiative by PRM to engage NGOs in identifying and referring refugees in need of resettlement in East Africa, the potential use of NGOs in this essential work is far greater and until our government more fully uses NGOs in this work, we will continue to fall short of our resettlement goals and potential.
- Our number one advocacy message has long been for the USG to manage things in such a way that there are at all times at least three months worth of travel ready refugees in the pipeline.
- We have also advocated for contingencies to be in place for those inevitable instances in which planned processing of refugees and their movement hit snags. Such is the case, for instance, in Kenya, where security concerns preclude US personnel from processing and moving refugees at this time. Yet, more than half of the admissions pipeline is in Kenya.
- We have also strongly encouraged the government to expand the application of the so-called processing priorities, including the development of group designations and the greater use of family reunification in determining which groups of refugees should be considered for resettlement.
Among the proposals we have been advocating are two that I will mention. First, the bishops believe that every asylum seeker should have the opportunity to make their claim and that this request for asylum should be expeditiously considered by an impartial judge. Second, asylum seekers, should not be detained, unless the government has specific knowledge that they are a threat.
Human trafficking is a growing phenomenon; in fact, it is now more lucrative than the trafficking in arms.
In April 2001, the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican and several Vatican offices sponsored an international conference on human trafficking. Several hundred people from around the world attended to learn more about this scourge and what is currently in place to combat trafficking and to serve its many victims. During that conference, a statement was read from Pope John Paul II, some excerpts of which include…
The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights.In recent times, a number of Catholic organizations have joined forces and created the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Tarfficking. The members of this group include:
The alarming increase in the trade of human beings is one of the pressing political, social and economic problems associated with the process of globalization; it represents a serious threat to the security of individual nations and a question of international justice, which cannot be deferred.
African Women Religious Conference
Catholic Charities USA
Catholic Health Association
Catholic Legal Immigration, Inc.
Catholic Relief Services
Commonwealth Catholic Charities
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Jesuit Refugee Services
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns
National Council of Catholic Women
School Sisters of Notre Dame
Sisters of the Good Shepard
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking is pursuing a multi-prong strategy for enhancing our government’s response on behalf of the victims of trafficking:
- Creating public awareness. This has two main dimensions: (1) to inform Americans so that they can be aware of potential victims in their communities and (2) to educate community-based workers (police, social workers, health care providers, and others) about who these victims are.
- Strengthening laws and policies designed to combat trafficking and respond to its victims.
- Collaborating with government to serve the victims.
There are many reasons for this. After all, this is a clandestine and underground phenomenon. But, since 9/11 we have seen a diversion of resources, particularly in the Department of Justice, away from efforts designed to combat trafficking.
We also are promoting protocols to be used by law enforcement personnel when they encounter trafficking victims so that the victims will truly have access to the services and protections the law provides.
The bishops believe that our nation is great enough to both protect its citizens from the threat of terrorism and at the same time remain true to our heritage as a nation founded by refugees by expanding admissions, implementing more humane policies toward asylum seekers, and doing more to identify the victims of trafficking and providing them needed relief.
By Mark Franken
Migration and Refugee Services
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
July 8, 2003
National Migration Conference