Labrador and Goodlatte Introduce Broad Refugee Reform Legislation

Bill to be marked up on Wednesday, March 16

Washington, D.C. – Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Vice Chairman Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today introduced the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act (H.R. 4731). The bill reforms the refugee program by curbing fraud and strengthening public safety and national security. It also provides state and local governments the power to decide if refugees are to be resettled within their communities and gives Congress, not the President, the authority to set the overall refugee ceiling for each year. The House Judiciary Committee will mark up this legislation on Wednesday, March 16, 2016.

Below are statements from the authors of the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act on the introduction of the bill.

Congressman Labrador: “Our bill makes common-sense reforms to improve and modernize the refugee program. It restores congressional power and respects the decisions of elected officials closest to the people. Importantly, the bill gives Congress, rather than the President, authority to decide how many refugees to admit. It boosts protections against fraud and requires rejection of those guilty of serious crimes.

“The bill improves prospects for success by placing refugees in communities that have the infrastructure to support them and by giving priority to persecuted religious minorities. To continue America’s long history of welcoming those in need, we must restore confidence in the safeguards protecting our security. I thank Chairman Goodlatte for his good counsel and partnership in developing and advancing real solutions to this complex issue.”

Chairman Goodlatte: “The United States has a generous refugee program that has provided millions of people fleeing persecution with a safe home. However, all too often we hear about fraud in the refugee program and bad actors seeking to exploit our kindness. Additionally, the American people have little say in the process since the President has the sole power to determine how many refugees come each year and where they are to be resettled in the United States.

“The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act makes meaningful reforms to the refugee program to curb fraud, strengthen national security and public safety, and restore integrity to the program. The bill sets the annual refugee resettlement ceiling so that the People’s duly elected representatives in Congress, not the President, decide what that number should be. It also empowers state and local governments to decide whether or not refugee resettlement is best for their communities. I thank Representative Labrador for his work on this bill and look forward to moving it through the House Judiciary Committee soon.”

Original cosponsors of the bill are Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Representatives Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.).

Key Components of the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act:

Places the refugee ceiling in Congress’ hands—not the President’s:

  • The bill sets the refugee ceiling at 60,000 per year. It allows the President to recommend a revision of the ceiling number and Congress can choose to act on that recommendation.
  • The bill prevents the President from admitting additional refugees without Congress’ approval.

Empowers state and local communities:

  • Currently, states or localities that do not want refugees resettled within their communities have no recourse. The bill remedies this issue and prevents the resettlement of refugees in any state or locality that takes legislative or executive action disapproving resettlement within their jurisdiction.

Enhances integrity of refugee program and curbs fraud:

  • It requires that when processing refugee applications from countries listed as “Countries of Particular Concern” in the annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, claims/applications that are based on religious persecution and are made by individuals who practice minority religions in such countries, are prioritized.
  • The bill requires termination of refugee status if a resettled refugee returns to the country from which they fled, absent a change in country conditions.
  • It requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to implement a fraudulent document detection program for refugee processing, including the placement of Fraud Detection and National Security officials at initial refugee screening, and the creation of a searchable database of scanned and categorized documents submitted by potential refugees at initial screening.
  • It provides for regular security vetting of each admitted refugee until the refugee adjusts immigration status to lawful permanent resident.
  • Within one year of the bill becoming law, all U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) interviews, performed during USCIS circuit rides and done with the assistance of an interpreter, are to be recorded and DHS must review a random selection of 20% of the recordings to ensure that the interpreter correctly interpreted the interview. If an interpreter is found to have incorrectly interpreted the interview, the interpreter cannot serve as an interpreter for immigration purposes.
  • The bill requires USCIS to review open source Internet postings, including social media, for each applicant.

Strengthens public safety and national security:

  • The bill prevents the Secretary of DHS from unilaterally waiving most grounds of inadmissibility, including criminal convictions, for refugees.
  • It also prevents the DHS Secretary from waiving most grounds of inadmissibility and deportability, including criminal grounds, for refugees attempting to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident.
  • The bill requires the Government Accountability Office to issue a report on the security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (including the screening and processing procedures); the number of refugees who have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 2006; and the use of federally-funded benefit programs by refugees resettled in the United States.

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