Congressmembers Take Steps to Protect Refugees

Thursday, August 10, 2011

Congressmembers Take Steps to Protect Refugees

WASHINGTON, DC – Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) have introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to protect refugees facing termination of their disability benefits (H.R. 2763, introduced Aug. 1). Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is leading similar efforts in the Senate.  The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) applauds these members of Congress for their work on behalf of this very special population.

The 1996 welfare law established time limits to refugee eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  These time limits were intended to provide an incentive for refugees to naturalize quickly and then maintain their eligibility for SSI as U.S. citizens. However, many refugees have difficulty achieving citizenship for the very reasons that make them eligible for SSI: advanced age, severe disability, and complex health care needs. They struggle with the new language and may be illiterate in their native tongue. Often they may not have the wherewithal to maneuver the application process.

In response to the recently introduced legislation, Ellen Battistelli, a NILC policy analyst, said: “Each year, thousands of individuals flee persecution in their home country and are promised safety and opportunity in the United States. Most of these refugees adjust to their new communities and achieve economic independence. A small number are elderly and disabled. These refugees are unable to work and are without sufficient support from friends or family to meet their basic expenses. They may suffer from isolation, poverty, and chronic health and emotional problems.  For many, their only protection from hunger and homelessness is their eligibility for the modest SSI stipend, also available to elderly and disabled citizens.

“In 2008, President Bush signed bipartisan legislation extending the time limit. This law, unanimously approved by Congress, is set to expire on September 30, 2011. It is essential that Congress act quickly to ensure that these vulnerable refugees receive the protection and support promised in our invitation to move to this country.”

The text of the bill is available from The bill number is H.R. 2763.

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