House Bill Would Allow States, Localities to Refuse Refugee Resettlement

Barbara Hollingsworth | March 15, 2016 | 3:08pm EDT
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Somali refugees who were resettled in Lewiston, Maine. (AP photo)

( – On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act (HR 4731), a bill that would allow state and local governments to refuse to resettle foreign refugees within their jurisdictions.

Currently, the State Department's nine contracted domestic resettlement agencies are the ones to decide where to "place refugees in about 190 communities throughout the United States," according to the department's Reception and Placement Program.

The bill also gives Congress authority to set an overall refugee ceiling for the nation at 60,000, down considerably from the current 85,000, and prevents the president from adding to that number without congressional approval.

Under the proposed legislation, the Department of Homeland Security would also be prohibited from unilaterally waiving grounds of inadmissibility and deportability such as a prior criminal conviction.

It would also require federal officials to prioritize asylum claims made by refugees fleeing religious persecution from countries listed as “of particular concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“To continue America’s long history of welcoming those in need, we must restore confidence in the safeguards protecting our security,” said House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Raul Labrador (R-ID), who co-sponsored the bill with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. (AP photo)

However, during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, opponents of the legislation called it “punitive” and “mean-spirited”, and claimed it would “dismantle the U.S. refugee program.”

“It ties the hands of the U.S. government to respond to humanitarian crises,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), who criticized provisions in the bill that would strip refugee status from those who return to their home country and extends by two years the time period for refugees to be eligible to apply for permanent resident status "for no legitimate reason," she said.

Nezer also objected to prioritizing “certain religious minorities” which, she said, would “hinder our ability to take in anybody.”

The bill “clearly discriminates against Muslims as the intended target,” said Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist minister from New Jersey and president of Church World Service, which resettled 14,228 refugees from sub-Saharan Africa in the U.S. in FY2014, according to its website.

McCullough told reporters that he finds it “offensive” that under the bill, states and localities would be allowed to “determine who is welcome” instead of the federal government.

“This is very contrary to everything our country represents,” he said. “We have to call on the moral courage of Congress to reject this anti-refugee legislative proposal.”

Both HIAS and Church World Service are listed as "voluntary agencies" that receive federal funding from the Department of Health & Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlment and other agencies to sponsor refugees.

"The United States is the world's top resettlement country," according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissior for Refugees.

According to the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center (RPC), a total of 22,826 refugees were admitted to the U.S. between Oct. 1, 2015 and Feb.29, 2016, the first five months of the current fiscal year. The highest number of refugees arriving from a single country were from Myanmar, also known as Burma (4,774).

A total of 3,476 refugees from Iraq and 955 from Syria have also arrived in the U.S. since October 1. President Obama has pledged to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees during FY2016. reported that of the 776 Syrians admitted since the terrorists attacks in Paris last November, only three (0.4 percent) are Christian. Almost all of the other Syrian refugees are Muslim.

Since the beginning of FY2016, a total of 22,826 refugees have been resettled in 45 states, according to RPC.

They are: Alabama (35), Alaska (66), Arizona (1,032), California (2,136), Colorado (514), Connecticut (173), Florida (784), Georgia (852), Idaho (380), Illinois (730), Indiana (534), Iowa (241), Kansas (236), Kentucky (699), Louisiana (66), Maine (151), Maryland (446), Massachusetts (600), Michigan (982), Minnesota (726), Mississippi (4), Missouri (455), Nebraska (307), Nevada (141), New Hampshire (150), New Jersey (86), New Mexico (88), New York (1,240), North Carolina (819), North Dakota (195), Ohio (1,079), Oklahoma (266), Oregon (381), Pennsylvania (871), Rhode Island (85), South Carolina (84), South Dakota (132), Tennessee (547), Texas (2,016), Utah (415), Vermont (119), Virginia (423), Washington (1,064), West Virginia (8), and Wisconsin (468).

Related: 0.4% of Syrian Refugees Admitted to U.S. Since ISIL Attacks in Paris Are Christian

Related: Former Ambassador to UN: US Has ‘No Obligation’ to Accept Syrian Refugees

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