Of Note: New Year's Promise- A Time of Renewal for American Immigration and Refugee Policy

Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Thu, Jan 08, 2009 at 12:50 pm

2008 was a tremendously eventful year – with dramatic political, economic, and social changes that will profoundly affect the future of the United States and the entire world. While much uncertainty exists, advocates for humane and effective refugee and immigration policy look to 2009, and the new Administration and Congress, with great hope and excitement. Like every New Year and every governmental transition, this is a season of renewal: one that offers us a chance to build on our country’s history and serve our nation’s promise – E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One.

Since 1910, a central component of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has been to represent the Jewish community’s core values and fundamental commitment to vulnerable refugees and immigrants to government officials in Washington DC. Over the years HIAS has – directly and in coalition with Jewish, interfaith, and other partners – advocated for policies to make the U.S. a welcoming new home for immigrants and the world’s leader in protecting and assisting refugees.

Our optimism about change coming to U.S. immigration and refugee policy is fueled in part by the openness of the new leadership to work in partnership with NGOs like HIAS. To take advantage of this opportunity and to underscore the importance of renewed American leadership in the immigration and refugee arena, HIAS has been privileged to help organize and participate in several briefings for key transition staff stressing:

• The need to reform the domestic refugee resettlement program as well as the "material support for terrorist activity” bar to refugee status, a policy that has denied protection to thousands of victims of terrorism;
• The essential role that political asylum has played in United States and strategies to restore the promise of American asylum policy;
• The values of the faith community on immigration policy and the coalition’s efforts in Washington and in faith communities across the United States to promote humane and effective immigration policies; and most recently
• The necessity for U.S. refugee policy to recognize that traditional models of refugee processing, while appropriate in many circumstances, must be supplemented with creative, refugee-focused approaches that provide secure and expedited resettlement and build on past experience with refugees in need (former Soviet and Iranian Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities; Kosovar Albanians; Iraqi Kurds; Uzbeks; Syrian Jews; and others).

We also have been key drafters and proponents of a series of papers for the Obama transition team that provide comprehensive analysis and policy recommendations. These include:

• Ensuring Refugees Receive the Protection they Need: Creative Approaches to Refugee Processing;
• Refugee Council USA’s Recommendations to the Obama Administration and 111th Congress;
• Interfaith Platform on Humane Immigration Reform;
• Transition Memo on the SSI Legislation Implementation;
• Immigration Policy Transition Blueprint;
• Protecting the Persecuted: Closing the Gaps in the U.S. Asylum System; and
• NGO Statement on US Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Policy.
Many of these documents are expected to be posted on the Obama transition website www.change.gov/open_government/yourseatatthetable.

These efforts give us a firm foundation for a successful year ahead as we press our elected officials to make 2009 a transformational year for the refugees and immigrants HIAS serves.

Warm wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.


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