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Kennedy, Colleagues Fight To Help Iraqi Refugee Crisis

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC


Because of the war in Iraq, more than two million Iraqis have been internally displaced in their own country, and two million other Iraqis are in neighboring countries throughout the region, primarily Jordan and Syria. The United States has allowed less than 500 Iraqi refugees into the country since the conflict began - only 63 have been admitted this year. The Judiciary Committee highlighted the urgency of this issue in January. Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey has said the U.S. Will accept 25,000 Iraqi refugees this year, but our current system of refugee processing is not working well enough or fast enough.

Today, on the eve of World Refugee Day, Senators Kennedy, Smith, Biden, Hagel, Leahy, Levin and Lieberman, introduced a plan to develop a comprehensive and effective approach to meet the rapidly growing needs of Iraq's refugees and internationally displaced persons, especially those who are associated with the United States. The bill would create a special category of applicants for refugee status for those who have helped the United States and expand the current special immigrant program for translators and interpreters to include others who have supported the American effort in Iraq. The bill would also allow Iraqis denied asylum after March 2003 based on changed conditions to file a new petition with an immigration judge to reopen their cases.

"America has a special obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who now have a bulls-eye on their back because of their association with our government," Senator Kennedy said. "At our hearing in January, chilling testimony was presented about the dangers Iraqis face because of their association with America. Clearly, we cannot resettle all of Iraq's refugees in the United States, but we have a fundamental responsibility to help the vast number of Iraqis displaced in Iraq and throughout the region by the war and the associated chaos, especially those who have supported America's efforts in Iraq."

"America has a fundamental responsibility to aid the courageous Iraqis who risked their lives to help our efforts in Iraq," Senator Smith said. "It is only right that we work to find a way to meet the needs of the countless individuals whose assistance to our nation has left them in great peril within their own country. This legislation is a step in that direction."

"The Iraqi refugee situation is dire, and we owe it to our Iraqi friends - many of whom have risked their lives to help us - to help them," said Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "This legislation does just that - but the only long-term solution to Iraq's refugee problem will occur when people feel safe enough to return to their homes. That requires a comprehensive and sustainable political settlement in Iraq. I urge the Bush Administration to lead a concerted international effort to produce such a settlement based on Iraq's communities exercising control over the fabric of their daily lives at the local level. The longer the Bush Administration waits to lead such an effort, the worse the refugee crisis will become."

"America has always led the world in helping refugees find a new life. Our legislation will help the Administration resettle thousands of Iraqis who are the most in need, and have risked their lives to help the United States," Hagel said. "We have a responsibility to help Iraqi refugees who have put their lives in danger helping the United States," said Levin. "I am hopeful that this comprehensive reform plan will help to ensure that they are not punished for the bureaucratic backlogs of our immigration judicial system."

"I am pleased to join this effort to provide some hope to those who have risked their lives assisting the United States in Iraq," Senator Leahy said. "Showing loyalty to those who have been loyal to us is the honorable thing to do, and it's the right thing to do."

"The United States has a profound moral responsibility not to abandon the people of Iraq," Senator Lieberman said. "Just as our brave soldiers are fighting in Baghdad today to ensure that all Iraqis have a country safe from terrorist barbarism, the rest of our government must mobilize to help the Iraqis who have been displaced by the violence."

The Democrats sponsoring this bill are chairs of the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Judiciary, and Homeland Security. Senator Kennedy is the Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees.


The Numbers

Number of Iraqi Refugees: 2.2 million

Number of Iraqis Displaced inside Iraq: 2 million

Number of Iraqi Refugees Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey said the U.S. could accept in fiscal year 2007: 25,000

Number of Iraqi Refugees accepted by U.S. to date in calendar year 2007: 63

Number of Iraqis currently working for DoD contractors or sub-contractors: 65,275

Number of Iraqisand Afghan translators with approved special immigrant visa petitions from DHS: 609

Number of Iraqi and Afghan military translators granted visas to enter the U.S:

The United States Government's Commitment

The United States "could resettle up to 25,000 Iraqi refugees" this year.
Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey, April 17, 2007

"We are committed to honoring our moral debt to those Iraqis who have provided assistance to the United States military and embassy." Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky May 2007

"The people that I'm most worried about in the near term are the people who've worked for and with us who might be subject to recrimination and reprisal. And we're trying to step up our efforts on their behalf." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, June 8, 2007


Create a P 2 Category For Refugees of Special Humanitarian Concern: The legislation would create a special category of applicants for refugee status. Those eligible for this program would be Iraqis that are most closely associated with the United States. Iraqis who qualify would be those who (1) have been employed by or worked directly with the United States government in Iraq; (2) were employed in Iraq by a media or nongovernmental organization based in the United States or were employed by an organization or entity that has received a grant from, or entered into a cooperative agreement or contract with the United States Government (3) are spouses, children, sons, daughters, siblings and parents of those who worked for/with us as outlined in (1) and (2); or (4) Iraqis who are members of religious or minority communities and have close family members in the U.S.

All applicants would need to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution. Slots for P2s would come out of the existing overall authorized annual admissions number (established at 70,0000 for fiscal year 2007), which is determined every year by the President in consultation with the Congress. Those eligible would not have to be referred by UNHCR or a U.S. Embassy. They would be required to go through recently approved extensive security screening.

Create a Special Immigrant Visa:
In addition to a new category of refugee applications, the legislation would create a special immigrant visa program for Iraqis that have been employed by or worked directly with the United States for one year in the aggregate since 2003. Applicants would not need to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution, but would need to meet security requirements, demonstrate that they provided faithful service to our government, and provide a recommendation or evaluation. The Secretary of State would be required to provide applicants with protection or immediate removal from Iraq if these applicants are in immediate danger. This program complements the existing program for Iraqi translators and interpreters, and would cover individuals in other professions who worked directly with the U.S. Government. 5,000 visas would be available yearly for five years.

Require Processing in Iraq and In The Region:
The Secretary of State would be required to establish a program for processing P 2 refugees and SIV applicants in Iraq and in countries in the region. The Secretary would be required to report to the Congress within 60 days on plans to establish this program. Currently, there is no mechanism for applying for refugee status in Iraq. Those fleeing persecution and seeking refugee status must find their way to Jordan or Syria, locate an official from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and then be referred back to the United States Government by the United Nations. The bill does not eliminate the referral system through the United Nations, or any other existing system, but it does create a new mechanism for direct applications in country.

Create Special Coordinators for Iraqi Refugees:
The Secretary of State would be required to establish in the Embassy in Baghdad a Minister Counselor for refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. He or she would be responsible for overseeing the in country processing of P 2 refugee and special immigrant visa applicants and would have authority to refer people directly to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

A parallel position would be created in the American embassies in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to oversee the application process of P2 refugees of special humanitarian concern. SIV applicants would work through regular consular channels in Embassies in those countries.

Resettlement and Host Nation Support:
Recognizing that the U.S. can only resettle a small number of the most vulnerable refugees within our borders, the Secretary of State would be required to consult with other countries about resettlement of refugee populations and to develop mechanisms in and provide assistance to countries with a significant population of displaced Iraqis to ensure the refugees' well-being and safety.

Allows Iraqis who were denied asylum after March, 2003 based on changed conditions (i.e. Saddam Hussein is gone and we are building democracy in Iraq) to file a new petition with an immigration judge to reopen his or her case.

After 90 days, the President would be required to submit a report (unclassified with classified annex) to Congress with an assessment of the financial, security, and personnel considerations and resources necessary to establish the programs required in the Act. After 90 days, the Secretary of Homeland Security would be required to submit a report to the Congress outlining plans to expedite processing of Iraqi refugees, including a temporary expansion of the Refugee Corps, and plans to enhance existing systems for conducting background and security checks for Iraqis applying through the program.

Endorsements of Iraqi Refugee Bill

"The International Rescue Committee has long advocated for a comprehensive U.S. response to the Iraqi refugee crisis that addresses the essential components of humanitarian assistance, protection in the region, and the admission to the U.S. of vulnerable Iraqis. Your legislation takes such a comprehensive approach." International Rescue Committee

"We applaud your bold effort to provide a comprehensive framework to meet the growing needs of Iraq's two million internally displaced and the two million refugees in the region…Your legislation is a greatly needed effort to address this crisis and ensure that the United States takes the lead in accepting responsibility for providing safety and security for greater numbers of Iraqi refugees and IDPs." Refugees International

"Although aware of this crisis, the United States has thus far failed to take the meaningful steps necessary to provide protection to these refugees and internally displaced persons. Your legislation is a welcome step in addressing the pressing protection needs of Iraqis…Your legislation commits the U.S. government to provide support and protection to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons in the region. In doing so it recognizes our nation's longstanding tradition of extending protection to people who are targeted because of their political opinions, ethnicity, or religion, among other reasons. As a result, we stand in support of this important effort." Refugee Council USA on behalf of Amnesty International USA, Arab-American and Chaldean Council, Chaldean Federation of America, Church World Service/Immigration and Refugee Program, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Human Rights First, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, World Relief

The bill "directly addresses several of these glaring inadequacies in our country's current approach to the Iraqi refugee crisis. Taking particular note of the United States' obligation to those who worked with and are therefore endangered by their association with U.S. based organizations and institutions it significantly expands the numbers of Iraqis to be resettled in the United States and creates direct, efficient mechanisms for Iraqis to petition for resettlement. It expands and streamlines the Special Immigrant visa program for Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters, and creates a new P2 visa category for Iraqi refugees of special humanitarian concern, a category that includes Iraqi writers, journalists, and media workers who worked with and for U.S. based media organizations in Iraq. Perhaps most significantly, it requires the United States to establish direct visa processing outside the UNCHR system in neighboring countries, and for the first time, inside Iraq. We strongly support these proposals." PEN American Center

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