Letter on Refugee and Asylum Priorities During COVID-19

The Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg signed on to the following letter drafted by HIAS and Jewish Council for Public Affairs, stating the need for governmental support of refugees, asylum seekers, and asylees during the COVID-19 Crisis

Dear Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned national and local Jewish organizations from around the United States, strongly urge you to ensure that our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic includes resettled refugees, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients, asylum seekers, and asylees.

While many of us can safely socially distance ourselves within our homes, we are constantly reminded that the same is not true for many of our immigrant neighbors, many of whom are on the frontlines risking their own health and safety to keep our country running. Any measures aimed at combating COVID-19 that exclude immigrants place the whole country at risk.

As Congress considers the next COVID-19 legislative package, we urge you to include provisions that will ensure that resettled refugees, especially recent arrivals, as well as SIV recipients and others who receive resettlement and integration services, also have access to the safety nets and literal life-saving services that so many of us need right now. Specifically we call on you to:

-- Provide $642 million in Refugee and Entrant Assistance (REA) funds for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This funding would support services that would help resettled refugees, SIV recipients, and asylees access cash and medical assistance, housing assistance, assistance with utilities, transportation, food, and health care so that they can stay healthy and keep their heads above water while it remains terribly difficult to find and keep employment and access health care.

-- Clarify that all resettled refugees and asylees and SIV recipients, including those admitted in 2019 and 2020, should be eligible for the direct cash rebates included in the CARES Act and any future economic relief measures.

In addition to these important health and stimulus measures, we also urge you to push the administration to ensure that the fight against COVID-19 does not sacrifice fundamental refugee protections in the process. For example, while we understand why the U.S. put the U.S. refugee resettlement program largely on pause during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration must resume refugee arrivals as soon as public health experts deem that international travel is once again safe. The administration must also take all necessary steps, including the extension of security check validity periods, to ensure that the U.S. meets the FY2020 Presidential Determination of 18,000 refugee admissions. Moreover, efforts to curb the pandemic must not violate domestic and international laws. The U.S. must reverse recent policies that deny people access to the U.S. asylum system and due process at our borders. Asylum seekers cannot be turned away and denied the opportunity to seek asylum, even during a global health crisis.

As Jews, we have a visceral understanding of what it means to be refugees. Our families came to the United States looking for safety and freedom just as today’s refugees do. Our shared histories and current circumstances reveal how we are all dependent on one another in ways that we perhaps could not have understood even just several weeks ago.

We therefore ask that you provide the necessary safeguards detailed in this letter, and in doing so, help to protect all of us from the ravages of COVID-19 and the further decimation of our country’s core refugee protections.