Welcome Refugees

As an occasional volunteer with one of a handful of charitable organizations that welcomes and assists refugees resettled in Phoenix, I am very alarmed and disappointed in the sponsors of SB1468 in the Arizona State Senate. This bill, given the Orwellian name “Arizona Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2017,” is an opportunistic attempt to slam the door on displaced foreign nationals, many of them victims of torture or human trafficking. The Senate bill appears to build on a vaguer version that went through committee in the House last year (HB2370), and has obviously been timed to piggyback on the Executive Order issued by President Trump on January 27, 2017. It is also coordinated at the federal level in the U.S. Congress, with Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) and Representative Ted Poe (R, TX) having introduced a joint bill, the “State Refugee Security Act” (H.R. 604 and S. 211), to allow states the authority to enforce measures like SB1468.

SB1468, if passed, will immediately suspend the state’s participation in the refugee resettlement program. It is clear by the review process described and directed in the implementation part of the bill that the ultimate aim is to withdraw from the program entirely. The specific measures include:

  1. Indefinite suspension of the program while the state “reviews and evaluates the costs and security implications” of our participation in the refugee resettlement program (RRP).
  2. Pass a subsequent bill that either authorizes resumption of the RRP or permanently withdraws from it.
  3. During the suspension period and after withdrawal, all charitable organizations that participate in the RRP shall immediately cease their activities and file a report with the Department of Economic Security within 15 days that describes their compliance with the order.
  4. If a charitable organization does NOT cease its activities, then the Department of Health Services will impose a fine of $1,000/day per refugee. The charitable organization will also reimburse any costs of arrest, prosecution, or incarceration incurred by the state for any refugee they helped resettle who commits a crime. The charitable organization is also liable for civil action by the state and victims of a crime.

The sponsors and supporters of this bill appear to be ignorant of (at best) or willfully disregard (at worst) the following current procedures in the refugee vetting process (h/t @marykaech):

  • clearance from 8 (eight) US federal government agencies
  • cross-checking in 6 (six) security databases
  • 5 (five) background checks
  • 4 (four) biometric security checks (fingerprints screened against FBI, Homeland Security and Dept. of Defense databases; iris scans for all Syrians and some from other Middle Eastern nations)
  • 3 (three) face-to-face interviews, months or years apart to see if any slight details have changed
  • 2 (two) inter-agency security checks
  • screening for communicable diseases
  • extra vetting for people from Syria: Cases with “national security indicators” are given to the Homeland Security Department’s fraud detection unit

Friends and colleagues, if you live in Arizona and you don’t know how the refugee resettlement process works, I ask you to please do a little research on your own so that you can see how very misguided (at best) and sinister (at worst) this legislation is. A good place to start is with the State of Arizona’s own Refugee Resettlement page on the Department of Economic Security’s website.

Here are some quick facts (again, h/t @marykaech):

  • The United States Refugee Act was passed in 1980, allowing refugees of special humanitarian concern to come to the US legally and permanently. Currently, the vetting process for these people takes, on average, 1.5 to 2 years. Many have lived in camps or temporary housing for many more years than this.
  • Since the United States Refugee Act of 1980, the US has legally welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world. In the past 36 years, ZERO Americans have been killed by a terrorist attack perpetrated by any of those 3 million people.
  • When a person flees violence in her home country and becomes a refugee, she has three options: [1] Return home after things settle down (if possible, this would take years, and what does she do in the meantime?); [2] Establish a life in the country to which she fled (unlikely, because those countries—Turkey, Lebanon, Uganda, etc.—often are unable to support the huge numbers of refugees pouring in); or [3] Apply and wait to be permanently resettled to a third country like the US, Australia, Canada, etc. Of all the refugees in the world, less than 1 (one) percent of refugees get the third option—permanent resettlement in a country that welcomes them.
  • For the lucky few who make it through the layers of vetting to be resettled to a third country, they have no say in which country they will be placed; someone else decides where they will go.
  • The United Nations decides who qualifies for the term “refugee.” A person can receive that label for the following reason(s): [1] She vocally opposes her government and thus receives death threats; [2] His village was burned down by soldiers and his whole family was murdered because he belongs to a certain ethnic group; [3] Her family belongs to a faith that is not in the majority, and her children’s lives are threatened as a result; [4] He served as a language interpreter for the US military in a war zone, resulting in death threats for him and his family.

Lots of information and hundreds of first-person stories of refugees are available from the charitable organizations directly targeted by SB1468: International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities Community Services, and Refugee Focus. Please check them out.

The punitive effects on the vulnerable, frightened, and defenseless refugees helped by these organizations and other partners, like my friends at the Welcome to America Project, will be tragic and shameful if this bill is passed and signed by the governor. It will amount to a second victimization of already traumatized children, families, and seniors. I ask you to join me in contacting your state senators to register your strong opposition to SB1468. If you live in another state, investigate what action your legislature has taken or is contemplating, and add your voice to stop measures like SB1468 that might be making their way through your state government. And contact your congressional representative and senators to register your disapproval of H.R. 604 and S. 211.

If you are in Arizona, you can use this tool to locate your legislative district and then locate your senator on the Legislature’s Member Roster.