Part 4: Advocate for Refugee Rights and Integration
UUSC has been working to increase federal humanitarian assistance for refugees, to increase the number of refugees the United Sates accepts each year, and to forestall any attempt from politicians to introduce or pass laws that will bring religious or ethnic discrimination into the refugee program. Whether it is at the federal, state, or local level, there is an urgent need for us to make our voices heard.
At the present time, there are over a dozen states considering passage of anti-immigrant and/or anti-Muslim legislation, including authorizing the military to keep immigrants out of a state, or allowing cities and towns to prohibit refugees from being resettled due to a lack of “absorptive capacity.” You can help through:
UUSC has four priorities for national legislative action related to refugees. As of April 2016, nearly 10,000 of you have already taken action with us! You can continue to help by supporting advocacy in these areas:
- Increase the refugee quota: Soon after the inauguration, the White House tried to impose a cap of 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, a more than 50% from the limit set by Obama. While the beginning of 2017 saw very small numbers of refugee arrivals, a May 2017 State Department decision lifts the limits. This progress is extremely welcome, and we must work to continue to accept just as many, if not more, refugees in future years.
- Provide adequate funding for resettlement programs: The federal budget for FY2017 has not been confirmed yet, but refugee resettlement agencies are expecting funding cuts.
- Support humanitarian aid for refugees globally: The U.N.’s Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan has only received 37% of the necessary funding from its member states, and as a result food rations have had to be cut. The United States can and should do more to support the global humanitarian effort.
- Prevent discriminatory bills: Courts at multiple levels have ruled against Trump’s discriminatory attempts to prioritize Christian refugees over Muslim refugees and bar immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. We continue to watch for executive action and legislation that could lead to additional discrimination in the resettlement process.
The political landscape is constantly changing, so this toolkit does not include specific bills that would quickly become outdated. You can find out about the latest federal action by visiting our partners Refugee Council USA and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.
Meeting with Your Members of Congress
Tell your Senators and Representatives that you care about displaced people overseas and refugees resettled in the United States. It is time to act with historic leadership and compassion and stand with those seeking safety and the opportunity to build a new life.
Urge Congress to welcome refugees into our communities; support increased funding for refugee assistance, processing, and resettlement; and oppose any attempt to dismantle the U.S. refugee resettlement system.
Helpful Hints for Meeting with your Members of Congress
Your best opportunity to meet with your legislators is when they are in their local offices. While you may be inspired to meet with them regarding a specific bill, it is equally important for them to know that there is generally strong support for refugees in their district. Visits can be particularly effective if your legislator is a member of an important committee for bills that affect refugees, such as Appropriations or the Judiciary Committee.
As you plan your congressional visit, consider bringing together people representing different interests, backgrounds, faith identities, ages, and constituencies to demonstrate to your legislators the breadth of support on this issue. Additionally, when addressing the impact of U.S. foreign policy and military interventions on the displacement of refugees, another important stakeholder group to include may be local veterans and current members of the armed forces who are advocates for peace, diplomacy, and human rights. Local chapters of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War may serve as helpful resources, as both are concerned with the human toll of U.S. wars.
Perhaps through the relationships your group has built with resettlement organizations and refugees who have become part of your local community, you will identify individuals whose first-hand experience of the resettlement process will help legislators get to know individuals living in their district who are affected by their policy decisions.
It is important that our representatives understand that refugees aren’t just an issue that matters to their constituents – refugees are their constituents.
Refugees live in their districts, gain citizenship, and will one day be voters. As always, be sensitive to asking refugees only to share what is safe and comfortable for them.
Another way for your legislator to get a better understanding of the direct impacts of the current refugee crisis is to encourage him or her to travel on a delegation to visit refugee camps or the places from which refugees are currently fleeing. Several members of Congress report that this has been a deeply moving experience which influenced their understanding of and commitment to this issue.
A detailed resource on how to conduct local congressional visits on refugee issues is available from Refugee Council USA here. Finally, don’t forget that you can also attend town hall meetings with your representatives and raise questions about their positions on refugee rights. You can find a map of scheduled town hall meetings around the country on this site created by Resistance Near Me.
In the Spring 2017, 14 states had 25 anti-refugee bills pending in their legislatures: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. Additionally, 31 governors made public statements that they did not want Syrian refugees resettling in their state.
Proposed state laws include injustices like:
- Requiring resettlement agencies to pay the costs of crimes committed by refugees (N, S.C., Ariz.);
- Registering all refugees into a database for their activities to be monitored (N.Y., S.C.);
- Authorizing the use of military force to keep refugees out (F); and,
- Implementing “absorptive capacity acts” allowing cities and states to ban new refugees on the grounds that they don’t have the capacity to handle the increase in population (K, Miss., S.C., S.D.).
Neither states nor cities have the legal authority to exclude Syrian or other refugees, because refugee resettlement is under federal jurisdiction. However, this legislation – whether it is enacted or not – has real impact. They create a chilling, unfriendly environment for new Americans, and can provide inspiration for hate crimes.
On the other side, in Spring 2017 there were 25 pro-refugee bills across 15 states. These states are: California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.
Contact UUSC at mobilization[@]uusc.org if you live in a state considering anti-refugee legislation and would like to organize with us against it. Almost every state has a strong coalition to prevent these bills from becoming law, and we can help you connect.
While we learn about new anti-immigrant developments almost daily, cities and counties are also increasingly passing resolutions affirming their identities as “welcoming and inclusive communities.”
In 2015 mayors from 62 of the largest cities in the United States sent a letter to Congress pledging their support for resettling refugees, many in opposition to their own state’s public stance. Additionally, hundreds of cities have declared themselves “Sanctuary Cities” where law enforcement has promised that it will not cooperate with ICE to identify and deport undocumented community members.
Steps to Passing a Resolution to Welcome Refugees in Your City or County
- Research: Assess the political make-up of your City Council or County Commission and determine if a resolution will be likely to have enough support. If your city is already a Sanctuary City (see this map) it is likely a strong target for a refugee welcoming resolution. If your city would be a good target and you are in a state whose Governor has spoken against refugees or whose legislator will be voting on anti-refugee legislation, these resolutions are especially important.
- Develop a coalition: Identify who else in the community would be interested in passing a resolution, and invite them to create an ad-hoc coalition. This might include other faith communities, university student groups, and resettlement agencies. Many localities have long-standing ecumenical or interfaith coalitions and human rights councils. These are good places to begin the conversations.
- Find a City Council member to sponsor the resolution: Set up meetings with individual members of the council/commission or their staff and find one of them who is a strong ally and would like to introduce the resolution.
- Mobilize support for the resolution: Get as many supporters as possible to show up at the council/commission meeting for the vote and speak in support at the meeting. Collect online petition signatures. Pursue media coverage – unless you think it will bring out more people in opposition, in which case keeping it quieter could work in your favor.
Here is a sample proposal for a City Council resolution. It is unique from those that have been passed because we include text actively welcoming refugees from Syria, Central America, and other regions of the world. The sample is intended to be adapted to your city.