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Dr. Donald Hammond
Senior Vice President
World Relief

Introduction: The Refugee Crisis

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the great work you have done during the short time you have been in leadership with the Immigration Subcommittee. You have called attention to so many issues, including refugee resettlement and protection. We believe this is the year to make critical changes; as assistance to and protection for refugees falls to a critical low, the needs of those escaping from persecution and conflict continues to increase.

The first reason we need to act now is the deteriorating conditions in refugee camps and other places around the world. Refugee needs are consistently underfunded and paid scant attention. Without resources from developed countries and other donors, obligations to the displaced are unmet. Such neglect can be seen in the increasing level of violence and insecurity in many refugee camps. Humanitarian groups cannot be expected to guarantee the safety of refugees when their own staff are being targeted by hostile armed groups. These working environments ultimately result in detrimental consequences for those who most need assistance and protection.

As a timely example – and one of which I am sure you are aware – is the condition of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea which worsens with each passing day. Those who fled for their lives from the civil conflict in Sierra Leone and crossed into Guinea are now clamoring to return home, despite the fact that the war being waged by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels is still continuing. For refugees to want to go back to a place from which they escaped is telling of the conditions they are facing in the host country. Such circumstances are unacceptable in light of the resources available from donors around the world.

In the Congo, war is also taking its toll on the civilian population. Just at the point when security in and access to more remote areas in the country seem to be improving, the U.S. government has pulled back on funding new initiatives. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has almost reached its $15 million cap for the Congo, and Administration officials have indicated there are no plans to increase assistance to the area. We must do a better job at protecting refugees and displaced persons. We cannot continue to under-fund assistance in explosive areas.

The second reason we need to act now is because actual refugee admissions numbers have fallen dramatically. Over the eight years of the Clinton administration, refugee admissions fell over 40 percent from their historically high levels of the 1980s. For FY2001, the admissions ceiling was set at just 80,000. Inefficiencies in the refugee pipeline have resulted in even fewer refugees arriving annually than are allowed for under the admissions ceiling.

Thirdly, we must act now to change U.S. refugee policy, as asylum and refugee protection laws are reflecting a harsher and more restrictive approach to immigration and asylum proceedings. The immigration laws enacted in 1996 put in place mechanisms that barred many people from pleading their cases before immigration judges. Individuals and families seeking asylum in the U.S. can now be turned away from our borders by low-level INS officers at ports of entry. Legitimate refugees have been forced to return to the conditions from which they were escaping.

We believe these challenges must be overcome, and we welcome your efforts to consider what changes are needed, and to put in place those actions which will result in the increased protection and assistance for refugees seeking peace and stability within our shores.

The Bipartisan Nature of Refugee Issues

Thank you also for the chance to present our experience and knowledge of the asylum process. We are here today to represent a segment of the U.S. constituency that has bipartisan roots, one that is concerned with justice, human dignity, and freedom. The issues that we are here to discuss have become common, shared concerns among those who want U.S. policy to reflect the great history that this country was built on – a history of democracy, liberty, and safety from oppression.

World Relief is the relief, development, and refugee assistance arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which is owned by 49,000 evangelical churches, that represent various ethnic backgrounds within over fifty denominations in the U.S. World Relief’s historically conservative constituency is one that has modeled the evolution of immigration and refugee concerns, changing its stance from being anti-immigrant to welcoming those who seek refuge in the U.S. Back in 1994, an evangelical was one of the primary authors of Proposition 187 in California, which barred illegal immigrants from being eligible for critical public services. This past year, however, the NAE surveyed its members and found that almost 70% thought that immigrants are beneficial to our society. Just weeks ago at their annual convention, the NAE passed a resolution supporting asylum and refugee issues, and urged the introduction and passage of legislation to limit expedited removal. In November 2001, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the umbrella for evangelical associations worldwide and a leader in the demand for religious liberty, will host the first-ever evangelical consultation on refugees in Turkey.

The Link to Religious Persecution

Of great concern to our constituency are the thousands of people of faith who are forced to flee their homes due to religious persecution. The INS cannot provide statistics on how many expedited removal cases were claiming religious persecution, but the link between asylum seekers and religious persecution cannot be denied. When we hear of rape, torture, and death due to religious persecution, are we to point the finger back at those persecuted to say, "Yes, we know you are persecuted, but stay there and endure it in your country.?" A Chinese pastor, defended by the Rutherford Institute, was recently granted asylum. He faced repression from the government of the People’s Republic of China for his evangelical Christian beliefs and states, "that despite the Chinese government’s release of high-profile dissidents, the Chinese government has become more strict with regard to individuals involved with religious activities and that religious individuals are feared more than political demonstrators."

Mr. Chairman, in 1997 this body heard similar arguments during consideration of the International Religious Freedom Act. At that time, an effective coalition of conservative and liberal actors rose up to highlight these and other issues. It brought together those on the left and the right, the faith-based and non-sectarian communities, and those concerned with freedom and democratic principles, and set out in cooperation to demand reforms. Through the bipartisan efforts of many faithful and passionate people, the International Religious Freedom Act passed successfully through Congress. However, at the time the Senate declined to take action on asylum.

Last year, many of the same actors came together in another successful coalition effort coalesced around the sex trafficking legislation. The shared conviction that the sale and bondage of women and children is morally unacceptable and repudiates universally recognized human rights brought feminist organizations together with religious congregations and academic institutions, to call for an end to the practice of present-day slavery. Women and children who fled to our shores found that their lack of legal documentation put them in the category of "criminal" rather than victim. The successful passage of the sex trafficking legislation gave them status and has made our laws treat them with the care that they deserve.

Now is the time to recommit ourselves to the passage of the Refugee Protection Act and deal with the business left unfinished from years past. Some of the same groups that fought for religious liberty and against human trafficking are now working together to secure the same safety and refuge for those fleeing from a "well-founded fear of persecution," be it political, religious, or any other reason. It is time for the U.S. take a hard look at the drastic changes in made in 1996 immigration policy and ensure that the lasting legacy is not one that causes death and further persecution to those who risk their lives for freedom. It is time for the pendulum to swing to the middle and for the U.S. to limit the tremendous authority give to the INS in 1996. It is time to limit expedited removal and restore due process for refugees. Karen Musalo’s report on the implementation of expedited removal conducted by the University of California lists the 101 nationalities with the highest numbers of people being sent back to their countries of origin. Of those 101 countries, almost 40% also appear on this year’s Open Doors World Watch List of countries that severely restrict religious freedom. In other words, over a third of those who were subject to expedited removal from the U.S. were being sent back to countries which are known to persecute Christians. And these numbers do not even reflect those who are subject to persecution for other beliefs or faith traditions.

In Laos, for example, there has been a significant and marked increase in the degree of persecution over the past year. These dramatic changes have resulted in Laos becoming the country with the second highest rate of religious persecution in the world, compared to its ranking of 19th in 1999, according to Open Doors. The situation in Indonesia also showcases the increased religious tension in many parts of the world. Although inhabitants of Maluku province have lived together peacefully for years, recent deadly campaigns by fundamentalist Muslim warriors have caused tensions to rise on the island. In China, the efforts of Falungong members to exercise their right to "worship" have elicited a strong response from the government, which has embarked on a campaign against "evil cults." Indeed, religious disturbances seem to unsettle Chinese leaders more now than political demonstrations for democracy. And in Sudan, one of the countries the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom deems the world’s most egregious abusers of religious freedom, Christians and animists – as well as Muslims who do not support the National Islamic Front regime – are systematically persecuted, to the extent that humanitarian relief agencies providing assistance to southern civilians are routinely targeted by government bombs.

The above examples indicate the extent to which the expedited removal process has undermined the United States’ historical commitment to protect and assist those who are fleeing from their countries of origin. As a nation founded by those who were escaping religious persecution, it is only fitting that our doors remain open to others who are in search of safety from oppression. Let us not turn our backs on those who need our help the most. Let us live up to the ideals and promises upon which this nation was established and institute changes which will restore hope and healing for refugees and asylum-seekers in this country.

Treatment for Refugees Fleeing All Forms of Persecution

Mr. Chairman, I have heard some say, "Why don’t we only spare those who are fleeing from religious persecution." To that I say, if our laws need to be changed, then they must be changed for all - all who are truly persecuted and who have risked life and limb to come to our shores to find safety must be protected.

Consider the story of Dominic, the son of an outspoken Liberian statesman, who fled the regime that murdered his parents and sisters as they lay sleeping in their beds during the bloody Liberian civil war of 1990. After seven years of an undercover, hand -to- mouth existence in Monrovia and Ivory Coast, Dominic stowed away on a ship without even knowing its destination. When the ship docked in New York , he was taken to the INS Wakenhut Detention Center in Jamaica, Queens and incarcerated for almost 2 years, one of the longest incarcerations on record. Members of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan befriended him and provided modest support. Human rights lawyers and Yale Law students became his legal advocates, pro bono.

His applications for asylum were lost and delayed, and he came close to despairing of ever being released. Then in May 1999, with just a half hour’s notice, he was released on to the streets of New York City. Though Dominic was granted witholding status to protect him from deportation to Liberia and given work authorization for 12 months, the immigration judge left open the possibility of a forced return to Ivory Coast. That became reality in April 2000, when he received notice to appear at INS for deportation to Ivory Coast, a country where he had no family or support networks, and where he would be in danger of being forcibly transported to Liberia, a fate that would mean certain death. Denied contact with his lawyer, he was sneaked onto a plane at JFK airport bound for Ghana without being given any travel documents by INS. Fortunately for Dominic, his friends and advocates were able to get him off the plane and released from detention. He awaits a final asylum hearing.

In most faith traditions, caring for the stranger plays a central role in the living out of one’s faith. My Muslim colleagues have told me that the spine of Islam is to care for refugees. It is said that anyone who dies a refugee holds a special position because of the hardship he/she experience in life. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." In the Old Testament we are told of the Jewish tradition of a special consideration for sojourners.

Closing Comments

If we seek justice, then we must care for all who are persecuted. We cannot save the Chinese pastor who fled abuse because of his religion, but send Dominic to certain death. Mr. Chairman, only with political will can we change our laws to protect the persecuted. It was done in 1997 with victims of religious persecution, it was done last year for the victims of sex trafficking, and now, it must be done for refugees who seek freedom and safety from persecution on our shores.

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