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As Syria Crisis Continues, Blumenthal Proposes Expanding and Improving Refugee Intake Process

by | Oct 5, 2015 6:57pm
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Posted to: Congress, Foreign Policy, Immigration, White House

Jordan Fenster / CTNewsJunkie file photo

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, speaking to news media in March

Refugees seeking to enter the United States would undergo a streamlined and expedited process to do so under a plan announced Monday by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal also was one of 26 senators to call on the Appropriations Committee to immediately consider emergency funding to provide humanitarian relief to Syrian refugees and to increase the capacity for refugee admissions.

Blumenthal’s plan, which is separate from the funding request he endorsed Monday along with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, would eliminate certain hurdles that can lead to “life-threatening” delays in processing refugees. Blumenthal is calling on U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to adopt the four-point plan he developed.

The call to action comes following an announcement last month by Secretary of the State John Kerry that the United States will increase the number of refugees it accepts annually to 100,000 by 2017, up from its current annual maximum of 70,000.

Refugees continue to seek safety in the United States as they flee political unrest in various countries, particularly places like Syria and Iraq. 

Blumenthal’s plan includes expanding the existing “Priority 3” program that allows refugees with relatives in the United States to apply directly to the government for screening and resettlement, instead of seeking referral from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees first.

The program currently is open only to refugees with family members in the United States who arrived here as refugees. Blumenthal, a Democrat and the state’s senior senator in Washington, said he would like to see it expanded to all refugees with relatives legally living here.

Blumenthal also wants improved coordination to end repeat security checks that expire while refugees are waiting to be processed. Refugees endure more than six screenings before arriving here, he said, and each screening is valid only for a limited time.

His plan would expand the length of time for which a screening is valid, in cases where doing so wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the screening, and have agencies better coordinate to allow for expedited checks when necessary.

Third, Blumenthal’s plan calls for the use of video conferencing for screenings. That, he said, would reduce the need for expensive and difficult travel for interviews that are now conducted in person. It would cut down on travel by federal officials and allow them to better reach refugees in “the most vulnerable populations,” he said.

Finally, his plan would notify families when some, but not all, family members have been cleared. Currently, the government waits for all members of a family to be approved for resettlement before notifying them, meaning one person’s application could delay all other family members’ resettlement efforts, he said.

Delaying resettlement in these cases puts family members at risk of injury or death while they await notification, according to Blumenthal.

He developed the plan, he said, after consulting with advocates in Connecticut and nationally.

“While I welcome the administration’s commitment to accept additional refugees from Syria and elsewhere next fiscal year, simply increasing the cap will be insufficient if we fail to expand capacity to screen and effectively resettle refugees within our borders,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

“Ultimately, a comprehensive effort by the international community will be necessary to effectively address the refugee crisis in Syria,” he said. “Steps should be taken immediately to expedite effective screening and resettlement.”

His plan, he said, will “streamline current processes, eliminate duplicative and unnecessary logistical borders, and allow for faster processing” without adding costs or putting safety at risk.

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