Thursday, September 20, 2007

Update & Talking Points on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

When General David Petraeus testified before the House of Representatives, he was asked by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) whether the U.S. has an obligation to protect Iraqi refugees. In response, Gen. Patraeus expressed strong personal feelings about the issue and confirmed that many courageous Iraqis are standing up and trying to contribute to rebuilding Iraq. "We have an obligation towards them," declared the General.

Both Gen. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker also mentioned the displacement of millions of Iraqis as a major concern regarding the stability of Iraq and the region. But even more revealing have been the Ambassador's cables to the State Department, the most recent of which was leaked earlier this week.

On Monday, the front page of the Washington Post ran the headline: "Crocker Blasts Refugee Process." The Post reports:
In his missive, Crocker said the admission of Iraqi refugees to the United States remains bogged down by "major bottlenecks" resulting from security reviews conducted by the departments of State and Homeland Security. Applicants must wait eight to 10 months from the time they are referred to U.S. authorities by the U.N. refugee agency before they set foot in the United States, he said.

"Resettlement takes too long," Crocker wrote.

Each DHS case officer in Jordan can interview only four cases a day on average because of the in-depth questioning required, and just a handful of officers were in the region, partly because Syria refuses to issue visas to DHS personnel, Crocker said. "It would take this team alone almost two years to complete" interviews on 10,000 U.N. referrals, he estimated.

As more Iraqis flee, he noted, delays are "likely to grow considerably."

"Refugees who have fled Iraq continue to be a vulnerable population while living in Jordan and Syria," he wrote. "The basis for . . . resettlement is the deteriorating protection environment in these countries."

Crocker suggested fast-tracking security checks for Iraqis, doubling the number of interviewing officers in Jordan and continuing to push Syria to issue visas. But he also suggested what he called "real alternatives," such as allowing State Department officers to conduct interviews, arranging DHS interviews by video from Washington or allowing Iraqis who work for the U.S. Embassy to go through the process in Iraq, instead of outside the country.
The Ambassador's recommendations are consistent with The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, a recently introduced amendment (No. 2872) to the Defense Authorization bill now before the Senate. Announced at a press conference on Tuesday (for more about the press conference, see our Guest Blog by Jen Smyers of Church World Service), the amendment is sponsored by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) with the support of Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barak Obama (D-IL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

IF EITHER OF YOUR SENATORS IS NOT LISTED ABOVE, THEY NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU TODAY! Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Senator(s). A vote is expected as early as tomorrow, so please call as soon as possible.

Passage of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act will require winning the support of at least 60 Senators, so we need your help to demonstrate at the state level that Americans care about the refugees and victims created by ongoing conflict in Iraq.

Here are some talking points:
  • I'm calling to urge my Senator to vote for the Kennedy-Smith-Brownback-Lieberman-Levin amendment (No. 2872) on Iraqi refugees to the Department of Defense Authorization bill.
  • This bipartisan amendment addresses one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, and it has been endorsed by a broad spectrum of organizations, including religious organizations, refugee organizations and the American Conservative Union.
  • The U.S. promised to admit 7,000 Iraqis between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007. To date, less than 900 have been allowed to enter. We can do better. Our country has an obligation to keep the faith with the many brave Iraqis whose lives are in jeopardy because of their association with U.S. agencies in Iraq, including NGOs.
  • The U.S. lags far behind other countries in providing safe haven for Iraqi refugees. Syria and Jordan currently host more than 2 million Iraqi refugees. And over the past year and a half, Sweden (pop. 9 million) has allowed more than 18,000 Iraqis to resettle in their country. Over that same time period, the U.S. admitted less than 1,000!
  • This amendment would eliminate the current requirement that Iraqi refugees must apply to the United Nations before our government will consider their applications, and it expedites the process for those who are in serious danger because of their association with the United States.
While you call your Senate offices, I will be on Capitol Hill going door to door to generate support for this important bill which could make the difference between life and death for many Iraqi refugee families at risk. Let me know how it goes on your end by sending me a quick email to EGustafson (at) and I'll keep you posted on our efforts here in Washington. Thank you for making EPIC one of the most energized networks in support of innocent Iraqi civilians in need.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

EPIC Guest Blogger: Jen Smyers on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

Jen Smyers is Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy of Church World Service, an organization founded in 1948 to serves as the relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States. From New Orleans to Iraq, CWS works worldwide to meet human needs and foster self-reliance for all whose way is hard.

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) held a press conference today to stress the importance of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act(S.1651). Joining him were Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Joe Lieberman (ID-CT). In addition to having a bipartisan cast of Senators, what really turned heads were the prominent conservatives in attendance, including the President of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist; the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene; and U.S. Army Sergeant and Iraq War veteran Joe Seemiller.

Yes, you read that correctly: Senator Ted Kennedy alongside Grover Norquist and David Keene. When legislation draws support from prominent conservatives and progressives alike, it tells you a lot about the importance of the legislation.

In his opening remarks, Senator Kennedy declared, “America has a strong obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who have worked so bravely with us – and have often paid a terrible price for it. Regardless of where we stand on the war with Iraq, we are united in the belief that America has a fundamental obligation…The target of the assassin’s bullet is now on their back, and our government has a responsibility to try and save their lives.”

Senator Brownback echoed those statements, and remarked, “It’s a good day when we can save some lives.” He also emphasized the need to act now, saying “we can not just wait for an end to the violence – we must help displaced persons in Iraq in the meantime.”

As a co-sponsor to the bill, Senator Smith emphasized the non-partisan nature of the amendment, saying, “this doesn’t register with a party, it registers as American, it registers as moral.”

Perhaps the most meaningful statements came from Sergeant Joe Seemiller, who served in Iraq in 2003. His translator, who he referred to as “Sam,” worked side by side with US troops in Mosul, Iraq. Despite repeated attacks on their base, Sam showed up for work every day and told Sergeant Seemiller that as long as he was alive, he would serve with his “fellow soldiers.” After facing several threats on his life, Sam fled to Syria, but not before insurgents shot his brother. Sgt. Seemiller has worked for the past two years to get Sam to American, but to no avail. He concluded his emotionally charged statements by saying, “there are only two types of people that would oppose this bill. Those who do not know all the facts, and those who can not see beyond themselves.”

The bill has gained broad support among both Republicans and Democrats, and is cosponsored by Senators Smith, Brownback, Lieberman, Biden, Hagel, Leahy, Snowe, Durbin, Feinstein, Obama, Menendez, Levin, and Voinovich. Click here to read Senator Kennedy’s statement.
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