On Friday, Sept. 28, the U.S. Senate passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act as an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization bill. Originally introduced by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) last June as S.1651, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act faced heavy opposition from the Bush Administration. But concerned citizens like you helped us fight back, sending more than 2,000 letters to your Senators urging action on behalf of Iraqi refugees. Many of you followed up last week with phone calls. Together, all of these efforts added up to make a real difference.
The Kennedy-Smith amendment marks an important first step by the U.S. Senate to address one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. Among its provisions, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act:
- Requires the State Department to provide a comprehensive plan for assisting countries in the region -- especially Iraq, Jordan and Syria -- that are struggling to meet the needs of millions of displaced Iraqis;
- Creates Minister Counselors in Iraq and throughout the region to better coordinate refugee processing and emergency aid;
- Establishes mechanisms for processing refugees from within Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Egypt;
- Provides up to 5,000 special immigrant visas (SIVs) yearly for Iraqis who worked with the United States and protection or immediate removal from Iraq of SIV applicants who are in imminent danger;
- Allows Iraqis who belong to a community facing persecution or at risk for having worked with a U.S. government agency, contractor, media organization or NGO to petition for resettlement in the U.S.; and
- Requires the Department of Homeland Security to report on plans to improve resettlement process.
Senate passage of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act is an encouraging first step, but it must not be the last. Until there is peace in Iraq and innocent civilians are safe, you can count on EPIC to continue to make our presense felt in Washington.