Several GOP members of Congress led by U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., have placed the Obama administration on notice that it is in violation of federal law with regard to the program that resettles foreign refugees in 180 U.S. cities and towns.
Sessions, along with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, released a letter Thursday that was sent the previous day to Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.
The Obama administration has said it will resettle 85,000 foreign refugees in the U.S. in the current fiscal year, followed by 100,000 in the next year. It has also asked for a substantial increase in funding for the program.
But the law requires annual reports on how those resettlements are carried out.
“Failure to provide Congress with required information on the resettlement of foreign nationals within the United States violates both the law and the public trust,” Sessions said in a statement. “These are grave matters.”
The letter accuses the administration of violating federal law by failing to submit an annual report to Congress on the activities of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which operates within Burwell’s department and doles out welfare benefits to refugees.
The letter states:
“It has come to our attention that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has failed to submit an annual report to Congress regarding the activities of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), in violation of federal law. Section 413(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended, requires the Secretary of HHS to submit an annual report to Congress ‘no later than the January 31 following the end of each fiscal year[.]’
“The FY2014 report – which was due no later than January 31 of this year – is still outstanding, and must be produced immediately.
“In its FY2016 ‘Justification of Estimates for Appropriations Committees,’ HHS requested over $1.6 billion for ORR. This request illustrates the exponential growth in ORR’s budget in recent years. Indeed, as recently as FY2012, ORR received $768,334,000 in funding – or less than half of what it currently seeks.
“Our nation is presented with serious economic and security threats emanating from our refugee resettlement programs. Congress cannot, and must not, issue a blank check to ORR, especially at a time when the Administration is actively in defiance of federal law.”
At least a dozen refugees admitted to the U.S. have been implicated in terrorist activity in 2015 alone, said Sessions, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on immigration and the national interest.
Refugees are also provided instant, lifetime access to welfare and entitlements. For the cost of resettling one refugee in America, Sessions said the U.S. could assist 12 refugees in their home region.
Sessions said that unless Congress set new parameters, the White House will have unchecked authority to bring in as many refugees as he wants, from anywhere he wants, without any requirement for congressional or public approval.
Refugee watchdog Ann Corcoran has been following the industry since 2007 and watching the annual reports.
“When I started following this in 2007 they were three years behind. Every year they’re supposed to file the report for the previous year,” said Corcoran, author of the Refugee Resettlement Watch blog.
Corcoran said she complained about the late reports in person to Eskinder Negash, who is himself a former Ethiopian refugee who resigned abruptly last year as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“I was testifying at a State Department hearing on refugees when I asked ‘where are the annual reports?’ I said there could only two reasons for the tardiness, incompetence or they are hiding something. It really hit him because it was the truth. After that they really sped them up. Now they’re only two years behind.”
Corcoran said the reports contain “very valuable” information.
“All kinds of data on welfare use, every grant going to the contractors, it’s all there. Everything you need to know about the refugee program, what percentage get jobs, everything,” she said. “They get the refugees every kind of stupid job they can so they can claim they are employed. I remember some of the Iraqis were complaining that they were drying cars at carwashes, but it was just so they were showing as employed in the data and then they can quit the next day.”
Corcoran said the Reagan administration did a good job of keeping up with the reports, but under Bill Clinton the reports started getting slack.
“They didn’t have dates of submission on them, so nobody knew actually when it was delivered to Congress,” she said.