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Responding to the Refugee Crisis: Refugees Welcome

Responding to the Refugee Crisis: Refugees Welcome

Since the beginning of 2016, over 50 pieces of anti-refugee legislation have been introduced on the state and federal level, as anti-refugee sentiment has increased throughout the country. At the beginning of this year, we successfully pushed back against the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act (H.R.4038), a bill that would have effectively halted resettlement for refugees from Syria and Iraq.  Although it passed the House following the tragic attacks in Paris in November 2015, it did not pass the Senate.

The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016 (H.R.4731) passed the House Judiciary Committee in March. This bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to create more barriers for refugees to enter the United States. Major changes to the current refugee admission system include lowering the number of refugees resettled, requiring congressional approval for future increases and providing states who “disapprove” of refugees the ability to block resettlement in their localities. This would be especially problematic as there is currently anti-refugee legislation in 19 states and over half of governors have said Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states.

The Obama administration has responded to the global refugee crisis by increasing the number of refugees resettled from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. Although this is just a small step toward helping the nearly 20 million refugees and more than 60 million displaced people worldwide, we must make sure that we reach this goal. In his pledge to resettle more refugees in fiscal year 2016, President Obama said the U.S. would resettle 10,000 refugees from Syria. We are already in May of 2016, and the U.S. has accepted just 1,736, less than a fifth of President Obama’s pledge. In contrast, Canada has provided visas to more than 48,000 Syrian refugees.

In Pirket Avot (2:21) we are taught, “It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” Facing the largest global refugee crisis since World War II is a daunting task, and welcoming and resettling refugees in our communities and the United States is an important and necessary step toward addressing this crisis. As we continue to push back against problematic bills, and instead advocate for continued refugee resettlement in the United States, we must also demonstrate to our elected officials that we are ready to welcome refugees in our community.

The RAC, URJ and WRJ have joined with over 50 national organizations in the Refugees Welcome Campaign throughout the month of June, in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. Click here to learn five ways that you and your congregation can join the Refugees Welcome Campaign. Include a prayer for refugees in your Shabbat service in honor of World Refugee Day. Additionally, take action and urge your Members of Congress to continue to welcome refugees of all religious backgrounds into the United States.

Rachel Landman is the assistant director of 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, MA, where she ran the inaugural summer Israel program, which focused on exploring Israel through the lens of science and technology. She holds a degree in biology from Hamilton College and served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She is an alumna of URJ Crane Lake Camp and grew up at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue in Brooklyn, NY. 

Rachel Landman

Published: 5/19/2016