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.


Kansas City, Missouri said...

Erik, I have called the offices of both of my senators from Missouri: Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond. Staff members were polite, took the information, but that's about it. I have passed along information to many of my friends and will keep my fingers crossed that the amendment will pass.
- Lucia

Maryland said...

Erik -- I just made a quick call to Senators Mikulski and Cardin from Maryland -- I'd expect them to be supportive of this. They were not issuing statements but in both offices they sound as if they are keeping a tally of the calls they receive pro & con. Thanks for all you do in this cause.
- Kathy

Shannon Anderson's Team In Training Page said...

Hi Erik,

I tried calling Senator Boxer's Washington office four times and could not get through, and her voicemail box is full so I couldn't even leave a message. Representative democracy, humph!

So I called her SF office, and told the person who answered that I wanted to encourage Boxer to support this amendment because it helped those Iraqis that are vulnerable because they helped the U.S. and/or Coalition members. I said that only 900 Iraqis had been resettled in the U.S. so far, even though we pledged to resettle 7,000, and that this amendment would help streamline the process of refugee resettlement in the U.S. The gentleman with whom I left this message said he would pass it on to the Senator.

- Shannon, EPIC Spring 2007 intern

Susan of Maryknoll, New York said...

Good afternoon, I've called both Sen Shumer and Clinton's offices; in neither case could the staffer with whom I spoke tell me the position of the senator. I strongly stated that I wanted them to vote for the amendment. Thank you.

Amy of New York City said...

Hi Erik -

I left a message with someone in Senator Shumer's office about the ammendment. He was not familiar with the ammendment but did take thorough notes which he promised to pass on. I tried Senator Clinton's office a few times, but it was always busy.

Good luck on this. BTW you might be interested in the feature film I've been working on. Details at MILAREPA: Magician, Murderer, Saint.

Sister Brown of Colorado said...

I called both Sen Salazar and Sen Allard offices and left a message on their answering machine

A Mom from Michigan said...

Called and got an answering machine. Left the message requesting Senator Stabenow's support of the Iraq Refugee Act.

Judy of Connecticut said...

I called Senator Dodd's offeice and the fellow who answered said Sen. Dodd was not signed on and he didn't know his position. I encouraged him to find out and to have the Senator sign on.

Patricia with Church Women United said...

Dear Friends at EPIC -- I just wanted to get back to you and let you know I called both of my Senators from Maryland. Thanks for including Church Women United in this important effort.

Dominican Sister in Michigan said...

I could not get through on the Senator’s line so I left a message on her voicemail. Thank you for the action alert! - Mary

Nadia in Chicago said...

My Senators (Durbin and Obama) are on the list. If they weren't you can bet I would have called or sent a letter. Thank you very much for all that you are doing.

All the best to you!

Paul in Washington State said...

Hi Erik, I successfully contacted staff members of both my Senators in Washington State and urged my Senators to support the The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act (S.1651), both staff members were receptive and friendly!

Holly of Rail Road Flat, California said...

I just sent an email message to Barbara Boxer, as it is very late in the evening on a Saturday. I urged her to co-sponsor the legislation and to work diligently for its passage.

Anne of New York City said...

I contacted Schumer and Clinton. Thanks!

name said...

Thanks to author.

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