Bills in Congress about U.S. Refugee Policy

While there is ongoing debate about the extent to which refugee policies, domestic threats, and military strategy intersect, the issues are already intersecting within the U.S. political debate.
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The horrific attacks in Paris have intensified ongoing discussions about the American strategy for combatting ISIS -- or "ISIL" or "D'aesh. (See: Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS "Daesh.") While there is ongoing debate about the extent to which refugee policies, domestic threats, and military strategy intersect, the issues are already intersecting within the U.S. political debate.

Many bills have already been introduced in Congress about these topics. Presidential candidates (and senators) Ted Cruz [R-TX] and Rand Paul [R-KY] have announced that they will soon introduce related bills. (We will update on POPVOX as bill details become available.) Follow the links to find out more and write to your Members of Congress about these bills.

U.S. Refugee Policies

On September 20, Secretary of State John Kerry
that the U.S. would increase the number of worldwide refugees it accepts:

Under the new plan, the limit on annual refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year.

The announcement was met with criticism from some activists who

"This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II." -- Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First

Eighteen US Mayors signed a letter in support of the President's plan, indicating that their cities welcomed refugees.

After the Paris attacks on November 13th, some elected officials suggested a link between recent refugees and terrorist activity and called for a limit to expanded refugee policies for the U.S. In recent days, nine governors said that they would "at least resist temporarily" refugee resettlement in their states. Texas Governor Greg Abbot sent a letter to President Obama, saying that the has instructed Texas agencies to not participate in refugee resettlement programs, though some question the legality of such an order. On Monday, CNN reported that "more than half the nation's governors say Syrian refugees not welcome."

Despite the push-back, Administration officials have said that the new plan will proceed. Congressional Democrats are rallying around the President's plan. According to the Huffington Post, House Speaker Paul Ryan may move legislation regarding Syrian refugees through the House as early as this week.

Limits on refugee policy as part of spending bills?

On Monday, Senator Pete Sessions, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, sent a
to Senate colleagues:

"to respectfully request that any upcoming appropriations legislation - including any Omnibus legislation - require Congressional approval for the President's refugee resettlement plans and the funds to carry them out."

Below, we highlight pending bills on the topic. But first, some background about the current policy.

Who is a refugee?

  • Refugees are forced to flee due to war, conflict or persecution and cross a border into a new country to find safety. (See full definition from USCIS)
  • Internally Displaced People (or IDPs) are forced to flee due to war, conflict or persecution and move into safer areas within their country.
  • Immigrants are people who leave their country by choice. They choose to live somewhere else for any number of personal reasons.
  • Migrants also leave their country by choice, in order to improve their livelihood, usually for economic reasons. Source:

How do refugees enter the United States?

  1. - Under the Refugee Act of 1980, each year, the President makes an annual "determination on refugee admissions" setting refugee admissions numbers, after consultation with Congress. (Read the 2016 Presidential Determination.)
  2. - A person must be referred by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee (USRAP processes referrals from the State Department, UNHCR, Resettlement Support Centers, DHS, Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement, International Organization for Migration (IOM), and non-governmental associations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
  3. - Eligibility is determined "on a case-by-case basis through an interview with a specially-trained USCIS officer," who "confirm[s] that security checks have been completed and the results of the checks are reviewed and analyzed before approval."
  4. - Refugees then undergo additional security checks, a medical check, are matched with a voluntary local sponsor agency, and given cultural orientation.
  5. - Before departing for the U.S., refugees are given an additional pre-departure security check.

"it currently takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or even longer to process a case from referral or application to arrival in the United States." - Background Briefing On the Mechanics of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, September 11, 2015

Time magazine

Pending Bills about US Refugee Policy:

Sponsor: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R, CA]

H.R. 2798 Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act
Sponsor: Rep. Keith Ellison [D, MN]

S.Res. 268 A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the Syrian refugee crisis
Sponsor: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen [D, NH] Recognizes:
the scale and complexity of the Syrian refugee crisis and the need for the international community to work together to provide resources and capacity to aid refugees; the humanitarian commitment of Syria's neighbors who have worked to absorb the vast majority of refugees, as well as the European nations who have made commitments to share in the refugee resettlement effort; and that the refugee crisis is a symptom of the broader conflict in Syria, the persecution of persons based on identity groups, including Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, and Kurds, and instability in the Middle East and North Africa, and that efforts to resolve those challenges are a necessary component of any plan to address the refugee crisis. Welcomes the President's decision to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, and to increase the overall number of refugees received by the United States to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017.

We will update on POPVOX as new bills are introduced.

Highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.

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