On Sept. 11, about 22,000 refugees were waiting to enter the United States. On Feb. 11 nearly 21,000 were still waiting, often in deplorable conditions. Many will be denied the dream of U.S. citizenship.
The refugees had demonstrated they aren't a threat and have a credible fear of persecution in their countries. The Immigration and Naturalization Service had approved their request. But the INS has allowed only 781 into the country during the first quarter of 2002, compared to 14,000 during the same period in 2001.
On Nov. 21, President Bush lifted a moratorium imposed following Sept. 11, pledging to allow 70,000 immigrants to enter during 2002. But new procedures slow the process, preventing many from obtaining refugee status and denying some who had been approved. INS agents used to meet refugees in camps. Now these interviews must take place at U.S. diplomatic facilities. Currently, they occur only in Havana; New Delhi, India; and Vienna, Austria.
By law, INS-approved refugees must enter the country within one year. With the backup since Sept. 11, many could miss the deadline and often don't know they can request an extension, resettlement officials say.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettled 94 refugees from Sept. 11 to Feb. 6, compared to 1,000 during that period last year.
Resettlements by Lutheran Services Florida, for example, have declined 70 percent since Sept. 11.
"Refugees aren't terrorists," says Ralston Deffenbaugh, LIRS president. "We can't allow this great rescue program, U.S. refugee resettlement, to wither away."
LIRS encourages faxing letters to Bush at (202) 456-2461, encouraging him to keep his pledge of allowing 70,000 refugees to immigrate.
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