Channeling Trump, Anti-Refugee Bill Approved by US House Committee

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Channeling Trump, Anti-Refugee Bill Approved by US House Committee

Enacting the legislation, 234 humanitarian groups declare, 'would send the message that refugees are not welcome here'

A friendly message seen painted on a building near downtown Detroit. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was among those who declared their states off-limits to Syrian refugees in the days following the terror attacks in Paris. (Photo: Reuters)

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved an anti-refugee bill that would, as The Intercept put it, "effectively codify the bigotry of Donald Trump and other GOP candidates."

The so-called "Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016" (H.R. 4731), introduced by Reps. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is opposed by hundreds of religious and humanitarian organizations including Oxfam America, Amnesty International USA, Church World Service, and Save the Children.

It would require "regular security vetting" of each admitted refugee, lower the refugee cap to 60,000—down from the already inadequate 85,000 ceiling set by President Barack Obama this year—and "[empower] state and local governments to decide if resettling refugees within their jurisdictions is best for their communities," Labrador and Goodlatte wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday. 

"This provision effectively grants veto power over resettlement to local officials," Intercept journalist Murtaza Hussain noted on Thursday. "Such a provision could greatly complicate any resettlement program."

As Common Dreams reported last year, in the wake of the Paris attacks, the governors in more than half the U.S. states said they oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees within their borders.

Earlier this week, in a letter (pdf) to ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee, 234 civil society groups voiced strong opposition to the bill. 

"Enacting legislation that would send the message that refugees are not welcome here is a sharp departure from our nation’s character as a beacon of freedom and our history as a country founded by refugees and immigrants," the letter reads.

Regarding the "security vetting," which the groups describe as "continual surveillance," the letter says: "It is simply un-American to treat persecuted individuals, who want nothing more than to start a new life in safe and welcoming communities, as criminals."  

Taken as a whole, the organizations conclude, "This Act would punish vulnerable refugees because it would make the process more complicated and create further delays, when refugees are already the most vetted people to come to the U.S. Passage of this Act would also send a message that refugees who have survived years of persecution and trauma and who are already woven into the fabric of U.S. communities are not welcome here. We oppose H.R. 4731 so that we may continue our country’s proud tradition of protecting and welcoming vulnerable and persecuted people from around the world."

Win Without War, one of the signatories to the letter, is also circulating a petition that says the legislation "runs counter to the humanitarian leadership of our nation."

Referencing the ugly rhetoric that has infected the 2016 presidential campaign, Oxfam America president Ray Offenheiser blasted the bill as "another example of just how vile the debate around refugee resettlement in the United States has become."

"Once again," he said in a statement Wednesday, "we see a piece of legislation that dehumanizes refugees and misrepresents our nation’s refugee resettlement process. It is unlikely to make Americans any safer and, to the contrary, undermines our country's global leadership as a beacon of freedom and hope."

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