Congressman Juan Vargas

Representing the 51st District of California

The worst refugee crisis since WWII: How America can help

Mar 25, 2015
In The News

Seventy years ago, as World War II came to a close, America took the lead in addressing the most urgent challenge of the conflict’s aftermath: finding homes and livelihoods for tens of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. In addition to exercising global leadership in founding institutions like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States set a global example by accepting and integrating more than

1 million struggling or stateless people. 

Today, the world faces a refugee crisis of a scale not seen since the Second World War. Over the past year, the number of refugees globally surpassed 50 million for the first time since 1945. With violence raging from the war zones of Iraq and Syria to urban streets in Central America, there’s greater need than ever for America to carry the mantle of refugee protection.

As the U.S. representatives from the two American cities with the largest diaspora communities of a highly persecuted people — Chaldean Christians — we can personally attest to the need for national action. The Chaldeans are an ancient religious sect with distinctive traditions and strong ties to Roman Catholicism. They have been ruthlessly targeted and driven from their homelands by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Having heard firsthand stories of monasteries raided, clergy abducted and churches attacked during worship, we cannot overstate the urgency of the need for protection.

This week, we are introducing legislation to better provide safe haven for some of the world’s most distressed refugees, including the Chaldeans. As part of Congress’s annual appropriations process, we are also leading a major request for robust funding for resettlement programs that empower refugees to rebuild their livelihoods and to lead happy and healthy lives.

The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act will establish a processing mechanism and higher priority status for those facing persecution (or having a credible fear of being persecuted) by ISIS’s ongoing violent extremism. These persecuted groups will include religious and ethnic minorities, and individuals facing gender-based violence. They will be able to apply directly to the United States Admission Program as a group of special humanitarian concern.

Once admitted into the United States, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides states and nongovernmental organizations the resources to rehabilitate refugees, victims of torture and human trafficking, and transitional services to help persons heal, adjust to their new surroundings, and start healthy and productive lives here in the United States. 

This week, we submitted a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services requesting that they fully fund President Obama’s budget request for the ORR. This funding is essential to empower refugees to live out their full potential here in the United States. 

Seven decades after the Second World War, it is unacceptable that 50 million refugees are fleeing their home countries to protect their lives. 

The steps we’ve taken in Congress this week are just the beginning. 

The U.N. and nongovernmental agencies serving at the front lines of the global refugee crisis need strong support. Ultimately, we need diplomatic and material investments in solving the underlying emergencies that are displacing so many people. By acting now to provide safe haven to victims of ISIS and fully funding refugee resettlement, we can take important immediate steps toward upholding our obligations to the world’s most vulnerable.   

Conyers has represented congressional districts in the Detroit area since 1965.  He sits on the Judiciary Committee. Vargas has represented California’s 51st Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Financial Services and the House Administration committees.