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AFSC letter to Congress: Stand against xenophobia

U.S. Capitol building
Photo: Carl Roose / AFSC

Since 1917, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has worked with war refugees and displaced persons worldwide, grounded in Quaker beliefs respecting the dignity and worth of every person. With 100 years of experience with the healing power of peaceful engagement, we are greatly concerned by a rising political discourse riddled with fear and hatred, with many legislative proposals now before Congress that will only serve to increase tensions and global insecurity.

AFSC staff in our offices in the Middle East and Central America have seen firsthand that both regions are suffering from an unprecedented degree of violence and instability. The United States has an opportunity to act as a leader in the face of the global refugee crisis that has resulted. Instead, most of the debate in Congress has centered on proposals that increase tensions and roll back legal protections for those who are most vulnerable.

Based on our experience with immigrant and refugee communities in the U.S. and our peacebuilding work abroad, we call on lawmakers to advance policies that are inclusive and welcoming of immigrants, and that strengthen legal protections for refugees and victims of trafficking. Ample evidence has shown that such policies are much more effective at building the wellbeing of all people than punitive, exclusive approaches that destroy lives and fuel division.

AFSC urges members of Congress to stand in solidarity with all immigrants and condemn Islamophobia and xenophobia. In the wake of the Paris and Brussels attacks, the American Muslim community has faced an increase in hate crimes and public officials and politicians have used Islamophobic language and approaches with alarming ease. Similarly, there has been an increase in nativist and xenophobic rhetoric against migrants fleeing from extreme violence and poverty in Central America.

By creating a climate that is full of fear and hate, our leaders invite actions that are exclusionary. There have been repeated attempts both at the state and federal levels to prevent the resettlement of Muslim refugees. And the Department of Homeland Security has resorted to expediting deportations to Central America where asylum seekers may face persecution. Our country will never have humane and compassionate laws governing migration as long as the political climate is rife with nativism and hate speech. We call upon all members of Congress to unequivocally condemn Islamophobia and xenophobia.

AFSC urges Congress to stop pursuing policies that obstruct refugee resettlement. Refugees are the most scrutinized group of migrants in the United States, undergoing intense background checks, medical screenings, and interviews. Screening is taken extremely seriously within the refugee resettlement program to ensure the program is used for those who need protection. We strongly oppose H.R. 4731, “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016,” which would drastically reduce and cap refugee admissions, place refugees under continual surveillance after arrival, and could effectively prevent many Muslim refugees from being resettled in the United States.

Refugee resettlement has been a successful and longstanding process in the United States. For decades, local faith groups have successfully partnered with officials to welcome, support, and sponsor refugees. We are called to welcome refugees who are fleeing violence and insecurity in their home country.

AFSC urges Congress to keep in place legal protections for asylum seekers and victims of trafficking. Proposed legislation, such as S. 2561, “Protection of Children Act,” or H.R. 4720, “Expedited Family Reunification Act,” are misleading attempts to curb the efficacy of our asylum and parole processes. Our asylum laws provide a legal recourse to people who have come to the U.S. and fear persecution in their home country. Attempts to undermine the asylum process should be rejected.

In addition, we must not roll back the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which protects children from being returned to the hands of traffickers, gangs, and others who seek to exploit them. Rather than wasting time and resources attacking programs that provide critical legal protections to children and individuals who are at risk of persecution and exploitation, Congress should seek opportunities to strengthen and improve upon the minimum standard of legal protections afforded to asylum seekers and victims of trafficking.

The attacks in Paris and Brussels, along with the current refugee crisis unfolding in the Middle East and Central America, present an opportunity for all of us to come together to build stronger communities. It shows a severe lack of leadership to instead turn to fear and nativism.

We call upon Congress to demonstrate leadership and reject irresponsible bills. Peaceful and safe communities are built on foundations of cohesion and inclusion, not reactionary xenophobia.