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THE DISPATCH:Lawmakers Urge Boost in Uyghur Refugee Admissions

The below article was published by The Dispatch, photo credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

The State Department stopped providing aggregate data on refugees’ religions last year.

Good morning. We have a not particularly lighthearted edition of Uphill for you today—balance out the vibes by enjoying this dog dressed as a bumblebee before reading ahead.

Congress Responds to Zero Uyghur Refugees Resettled 

Two weeks ago, we reported the disturbing fact that the United States admitted zero Uyghur refugees in the past year—despite the State Department’s determination that the Chinese government’s atrocities against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang amount to genocide.

Some Uyghurs already in the United States have waited years for their asylum cases to be processed. Others are living in countries like Turkey and Egypt, where they fear being unjustly extradited to China. 

The Dispatch learned about the number of Uyghurs admitted in fiscal year 2021 from a document detailing refugees’ countries of origin, followed by confirmation from a State Department spokesperson. But this method is not easily accessible to the public, and the countries of origin spreadsheet is not a clear indicator for the number of refugees resettled from other religious groups. 

It isn’t just the general public out of the loop, though: We spoke with several members of Congress and experts who work on these issues, and most were surprised to learn the United States didn’t resettle any Uyghurs through the refugee program in fiscal year 2021. That’s partly because the State Department stopped sharing reports with this kind of information last year. 

The Refugee Processing Center used to track religious demographics of admitted refugees and made the information publicly available online. But the State Department stopped publishing the data in October 2020. 

Advocates at the time said the change would make it more difficult to keep the government transparent in meeting its admissions goals. The need for accountability is even more marked today with an active genocide designation and as lawmakers debate legislation to make it easier for Uyghurs to apply for asylum. 

Rep. Tom Malinowski—a New Jersey Democrat who testified recently before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about refugees from Hong Kong and Xinjiang—said the State Department should make the information public again.

“There’s no privacy concerns with respect to categories,” he told The Dispatch last week when asked about the removal of the religion data. “It’s important for us to understand what the trends are, where people are coming from, what parts of the world. All of that, I think, should be recorded.”

When the data was removed under the Trump administration, a State Department spokesperson attributed the change to the development of a new information technology system, expected to be completed next month, as well as concerns about privacy, according to the Religion News Service.

The shift did not sit well with faith-based refugee resettlement organizations. Matthew Soerens of the Christian organization World Relief told RNS that the change made it harder to “hold our government accountable to its commitments to protect those fleeing violations of their religious liberty globally.”

Soerens pointed out in a conversation with The Dispatch last week that the information disappeared from the website a couple of months after World Relief, in conjunction with the Christian refugee advocacy organization Open Doors USA, published a report based on the State Department’s data about the steep drop in the number of religious minorities resettled in the United States during the Trump administration.

A State Department spokesperson reiterated to The Dispatch Monday that the information remains unavailable because of the work on a new IT system. 

“The Refugee Processing Center will provide additional reporting on the website throughout 2022 once the new IT system is fully deployed,” the spokesperson said. 

But the department has not indicated whether the religion data will return: “We have yet to determine which specific reports will be available, but we will take into account data protection and refugee privacy concerns,” the spokesperson added.

Lawmakers from both parties have called for measures to make it easier for Uyghur refugees to come to the United States. Members involved in the debate responded to The Dispatch’s story by urging action to fix America’s refugee system and to grant Uyghurs priority status.

“Victims of repression worldwide look to the United States for help,” Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said. “When we can offer that help, I feel we must. I’m extremely disappointed that the United States has not been welcoming Uyghur refugees to our shores. We need to take immediate steps to change that, including extending Priority 2 refugee status to Uyghurs, which we should also extend to the people of Hong Kong fleeing Chinese government persecution.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who also co-chairs the commission, agreed Uyghurs should be prioritized.

“Recognizing that the Biden administration inherited a gutted system, I’m disappointed that processing continues to be slow and burdensome, not just for applications by eligible Uyghur refugees who have been vetted for resettlement by the UNHCR, but for so many refugees whose applications for resettlement in the U.S. remain backlogged,” he said. “It is urgent that this matter be remedied as quickly as possible.”

But action from Congress is uncertain. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the commission and a sponsor of bipartisan legislation to grant Uyghurs priority refugee status, said he has not heard any updates from Senate leaders on whether the bill could receive a vote soon.

“Anything that has to do with immigration obviously becomes a target for other immigration-related topics, so it’s always hard to move on those,” Rubio told The Dispatch last week. “But hopefully it’s something we can include in some other piece of legislation without becoming a forum for a fight on everything else.”

Good morning. We have a not particularly lighthearted edition of Uphill for you today—balance out the vibes by enjoying this dog dressed as a bumblebee before reading ahead.

Congress Responds to Zero Uyghur Refugees Resettled 

Two weeks ago, we reported the disturbing fact that the United States admitted zero Uyghur refugees in the past year—despite the State Department’s determination that the Chinese government’s atrocities against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang amount to genocide.

Some Uyghurs already in the United States have waited years for their asylum cases to be processed. Others are living in countries like Turkey and Egypt, where they fear being unjustly extradited to China. 

The Dispatch learned about the number of Uyghurs admitted in fiscal year 2021 from a document detailing refugees’ countries of origin, followed by confirmation from a State Department spokesperson. But this method is not easily accessible to the public, and the countries of origin spreadsheet is not a clear indicator for the number of refugees resettled from other religious groups. 

It isn’t just the general public out of the loop, though: We spoke with several members of Congress and experts who work on these issues, and most were surprised to learn the United States didn’t resettle any Uyghurs through the refugee program in fiscal year 2021. That’s partly because the State Department stopped sharing reports with this kind of information last year. 

The Refugee Processing Center used to track religious demographics of admitted refugees and made the information publicly available online. But the State Department stopped publishing the data in October 2020. 

Advocates at the time said the change would make it more difficult to keep the government transparent in meeting its admissions goals. The need for accountability is even more marked today with an active genocide designation and as lawmakers debate legislation to make it easier for Uyghurs to apply for asylum. 

Rep. Tom Malinowski—a New Jersey Democrat who testified recently before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about refugees from Hong Kong and Xinjiang—said the State Department should make the information public again.

“There’s no privacy concerns with respect to categories,” he told The Dispatch last week when asked about the removal of the religion data. “It’s important for us to understand what the trends are, where people are coming from, what parts of the world. All of that, I think, should be recorded.”

When the data was removed under the Trump administration, a State Department spokesperson attributed the change to the development of a new information technology system, expected to be completed next month, as well as concerns about privacy, according to the Religion News Service.

The shift did not sit well with faith-based refugee resettlement organizations. Matthew Soerens of the Christian organization World Relief told RNS that the change made it harder to “hold our government accountable to its commitments to protect those fleeing violations of their religious liberty globally.”

Soerens pointed out in a conversation with The Dispatch last week that the information disappeared from the website a couple of months after World Relief, in conjunction with the Christian refugee advocacy organization Open Doors USA, published a report based on the State Department’s data about the steep drop in the number of religious minorities resettled in the United States during the Trump administration.

A State Department spokesperson reiterated to The Dispatch Monday that the information remains unavailable because of the work on a new IT system. 

“The Refugee Processing Center will provide additional reporting on the website throughout 2022 once the new IT system is fully deployed,” the spokesperson said. 

But the department has not indicated whether the religion data will return: “We have yet to determine which specific reports will be available, but we will take into account data protection and refugee privacy concerns,” the spokesperson added.

Lawmakers from both parties have called for measures to make it easier for Uyghur refugees to come to the United States. Members involved in the debate responded to The Dispatch’s story by urging action to fix America’s refugee system and to grant Uyghurs priority status.

“Victims of repression worldwide look to the United States for help,” Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said. “When we can offer that help, I feel we must. I’m extremely disappointed that the United States has not been welcoming Uyghur refugees to our shores. We need to take immediate steps to change that, including extending Priority 2 refugee status to Uyghurs, which we should also extend to the people of Hong Kong fleeing Chinese government persecution.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who also co-chairs the commission, agreed Uyghurs should be prioritized.

“Recognizing that the Biden administration inherited a gutted system, I’m disappointed that processing continues to be slow and burdensome, not just for applications by eligible Uyghur refugees who have been vetted for resettlement by the UNHCR, but for so many refugees whose applications for resettlement in the U.S. remain backlogged,” he said. “It is urgent that this matter be remedied as quickly as possible.”

But action from Congress is uncertain. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the commission and a sponsor of bipartisan legislation to grant Uyghurs priority refugee status, said he has not heard any updates from Senate leaders on whether the bill could receive a vote soon.

“Anything that has to do with immigration obviously becomes a target for other immigration-related topics, so it’s always hard to move on those,” Rubio told The Dispatch last week. “But hopefully it’s something we can include in some other piece of legislation without becoming a forum for a fight on everything else.”

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