Assistance to 5,600 disabled and elderly refugees that is literally life-saving is being blocked in the US Senate by Tea Party Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).
The $36 million Supplemental Security Income program, is, for many, their only source of income — and Congress has had to extend it every year because of an unfortunate side effect of a 1996 law that placed strict time limits on benefits for refugees who did not become citizens within seven years.
Yet many have been simply unable to meet the deadline because they are either very old and sick, blind or mentally disabled. Many could not afford administrative fees, couldn’t understand the requirement or were caught in processing backlogs.
As refugees, they are all survivors of persecution, torture or warfare and rely on government aid for basic food and housing needs.
On September 30, 2,195 refugees lost their benefits. Another 400 to 500 are expected to be cut off from aid each month as their eligibility runs out.
Congressional supporters have identified offsetting spending cuts to pay for it, but Paul claims that the money could be used to aid terrorists. Paul cites one incident where two refugees were arrested.
But in an extensive explanatory article, the British group Refugee Action explain how fears of the asylum and refugee system being ‘an open door for terrorists’ are misplaced.
It quotes the former British Home Secretary David Blunkett saying:
“We should not assume that asylum seekers are any more likely to be terrorists than anyone else. That would be wholly wrong, and deeply damaging to social cohesion and good race relations in this country.”
In fact, Refugee Council USA points out, asylum seekers and refugees are prime victims of terrorism and have suffered from the system’s reaction since 9/11:
Since 2004 thousands of persecuted refugees in need of protection, who pose no threat to national security, are being denied access to asylum and resettlement in the United States due to the unintended consequences of the overly-broad application of the “material support to terrorist organizations” bar (and related bars) to admissions.
Ironically, for many of these refugees and asylum seekers, the very circumstances that form the basis on their claim of persecution, have been interpreted in way to deny them entry into the U.S. Refugees and asylum seekers who are coerced or who have acted under duress are being denied protection by the U.S. government regardless of whether or not the “support” was voluntary.
The overbroad applications of the material support bar has eroded the U.S. refugee resettlement program and placed asylum seekers on hold—and often in prolonged detention. Moreover, there are thousands of refugee and asylees green card applications “on hold” for material support. Refugees who were admitted to the U.S. before the government began to apply the material support bar are now afraid to apply for green cards. Likewise, hundreds of family reunification petitions filed by refugees and asylees for their spouses and minor children are also on hold.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the bill’s sponsor, pointed out the life-threatening consequences of Paul’s actions:
“The bill ensures that refugees will not lose critical life-sustaining benefits that are their only safety net protecting them from homelessness, illness and other effects of extreme poverty,” he said, noting that “some of the disabled refugees this bill helps are people who have aided American troops overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan — and risked their lives for America’s cause.”
Paul was excoriated over his actions in an October 7th New York Times Editorial:
“His hold is letting innocent refugees suffer. He should lift it and end this disgrace.”
Picture by Gage Skidmore