Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member, for the Markup of H.R. 4731, the ‘‘Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act,”

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
We are in the midst of a global refugee crisis.  There are currently more displaced people – approximately 60 million – than at any time since World War II. 

They are in refugee camps in Africa.  They are on boats, in trains, and traveling by foot from the Middle East to Europe.  And they are coming to our border from Central America.  These are the world's most vulnerable, many of them women and children.

Unfortunately, the Majority's answer to this crisis is H.R. 4731, a bill that would reduce refugee admissions to the United States by nearly one third, deem all refugees suspect, and effectively build walls around entire communities.

First, H.R. 4731 would impose an arbitrarily low cap on the number of refugees permitted to be resettled each year and would transfer the authority to establish the annual refugee admissions ceiling from the President to Congress.  Doing so, would tie the hands of the President, making it difficult – if not impossible – for him or her to utilize the refugee program to respond in a time of war or other crisis. 

As a result, those fleeing persecution will be turned away because we have reached an arbitrary level that is far below what is needed, what we can do, and what other countries - including Germany and Canada - are doing.

In addition, H.R. 4731 would erect new, costly and ineffective hurdles for those seeking to start a new life in America and would deem all refugees suspect.

It authorizes surveillance monitoring and additional security checks for all refugees without cause and for no other reason than having arrived legally through the refugee program.  It stigmatizes refugees as potential criminals.  It is simply un-American to treat those fleeing persecution, who want nothing more than to start a new life in safe and welcoming communities, as potential criminals.

Finally, this legislation would effectively wall off entire communities from refugee resettlement by empowering governors and local legislatures to block to block the resettlement of refugees.  We know that the U.S. refugee program relies on support from state and local governments, as well as faith-based and other non-governmental organizations.  Without them, it just doesn’t work.

In my home state, I opposed the governor when he tried to exclude Syrian refugees from being resettled in Michigan.  And I am pleased he has backtracked.

In closing, I would note that this is not a serious attempt to legislate.  A draft of H.R. 4731 was just made available to Members on Monday, there have been no legislative hearings or even the opportunity for input from the Administration or organizations that are best equipped to understand how such sweeping changes will affect refugees. 

Instead, I suspect this is just another political exercise to play on our worst fears – similar to the divisive and dangerous rhetoric being used by certain political candidates.

I have watched with dismay as the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination talks of building a wall and closing our country to Muslims.  I know the Muslim community in and around my district.  These are hard-working, family-oriented people of faith.  Their dreams are the same as immigrants who came before them – safety and protection from oppression, educational opportunities for their children, and a better life for those willing to work for it. 

H.R. 4731 would have us turn our back on those in most need of refugee resettlement.  It is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of U.S. and international refugee law. Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this mean spirited legislation and I yield back the balance of my time.

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