Rep. Omar Leads Letter Calling for Refugee Protections in Coronavirus Response

March 24, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) led a letter to House leadership today calling for measures to ensure the protection of refugees, asylees, and other immigrants in emergency legislation responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Members requested that funding for refugee admissions be included in future coronavirus emergency legislation, that refugee admissions are resumed expeditiously, and that the Administration extend validity periods for visas and security checks to account for coronavirus-related delays.

“Refugees, special immigrants, and immigrant visa applicants are important members of American communities,” the Members wrote. “Refugees are the most vetted travelers to the United States and face rigorous security checks that take years to complete. Further, immigrants often wait for years and go to great lengths and expense to obtain visas to enter the United States. Afghan SIVs in particular have been persecuted for their faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government. Now is the time to ensure that we do not turn our backs on those we promised to welcome. Finally, given the suspension of refugee admissions, I am requesting that they be resumed as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The letter was signed by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Rep. Tony Cárdenas, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Gwen Moore, Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. James P. McGovern, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, Rep. Jahana Hayes, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Rep. David N. Cicilline, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Rep. Darren Soto, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.

A PDF of the letter can be found PDF iconhere and the full text of the letter is below.

 

 March 24, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Ranking Member McCarthy:

We write to request that emergency legislation related to COVID-19 include protections for refugees, asylees, and other immigrants.

First, we request that funding for refugee admissions be included in this or future COVID-19 legislation to ensure that the needs of our newest neighbors are met. We request an additional $350 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) funds for the  Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) within the State Department, as well as an additional $462 million in Refugee and Entrant Assistance (REA) funds for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Dep't of Health and Human Services (HHS) for resettlement services. This funding is critical to ensuring that recent refugee and special immigrant arrivals receive direct assistance, such as cash and medical assistance, housing/rent, utilities, transportation, food, and health needs unavailable through normally operating public channels.

Second, given that refugee admissions are suspended, we request report language directing the Departments of State and its partners to resume refugee admissions expeditiously, consistent with general travel restrictions from refugees’ countries of residence.

We must address the impact of COVID-19 on applicants for immigrant and refugee status, as security checks, visas, and entry permits have limited validity periods. Report language should therefore direct the Departments of State and Homeland Security to extend validity periods for visas and security checks to account for coronavirus-related delays, and to take all action afforded by law to extend the authorization dates of travel documents that have expired recently or will expire before the end of the current U.S. travel restrictions and the global pandemic. Where necessary, revised medical checks should be provided at no cost to the applicant. Failing to extend these expiration dates would punish individuals who have satisfied all requirements for admission to the United States.

The report language should also direct the Departments of State and Homeland Security to extend deadlines on applications, including periods to submit visa applications, respond to Requests for Evidence, or to submit Affidavits or Relationship or I-730 petitions. The report language should also direct the Department of State to continue refugee processing stages that are unaffected by the virus, to extend security check periods wherever possible, to resume refugee admissions in a manner equivalent to treatment of travel from refugees’ country of residence, and to reallocate refugee admissions priorities to ensure that the Presidential Determination for Fiscal Year 2020 can be met in full.

Refugees, special immigrants, and immigrant visa applicants are important members of American communities. Refugees are the most vetted travelers to the United States and face rigorous security checks that take years to complete. Further, immigrants often wait for years and go to great lengths and expense to obtain visas to enter the United States. Afghan SIVs in particular have been persecuted for their faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government. Now is the time to ensure that we do not turn our backs on those we promised to welcome.

 

Respectfully,

Ilhan Omar

Member of Congress

 

 
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