Attorney General Becerra Leads Effort to Defend Refugees Against Unlawful Executive Order

Friday, December 13, 2019
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh today co-led a coalition of 12 attorneys general in an amicus brief seeking to block President Trump’s unlawful executive order on refugee resettlement and the U.S. Department of State’s recent attempt to implement that order’s consent requirement. The executive order seeks to upend the existing refugee resettlement process by requiring resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from state and county authorities before being able to place refugees in their jurisdictions. In the brief filed in HIAS, Inc. v. Donald Trump, the coalition argues that the executive order violates the Refugee Act of 1980, interferes with state sovereignty, undermines family reunification efforts, and disrupts the states’ abilities to deliver essential resources that help refugees contribute to the communities that welcome them.

“Our country was built by those seeking to escape tyranny and persecution,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Instead of recognizing our common humanity, this heartless executive order would subject newcomers to further trauma and stigma. We should be focused on reuniting families, not forcing them apart. Refugees contribute to our communities as business owners, neighbors, teachers, and so much more. They are welcome in our state and we will continue to do our part to defend their rights.”

Each year, thousands of refugees are admitted into the United States and welcomed into communities across the country where they can connect with services, resources, and members of their family or cultural community that help them not just adjust but thrive. President Trump’s executive order threatens to erode the decades-old refugee relocation system established by the U.S. Congress, which provides for the effective resettlement of refugees and assists them in achieving economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. The Refugee Act does not grant the President the authority to give states or their local governments the ability to veto the initial placement of refugees within their jurisdictions. In fact, the federal requirement to seek additional consent from county authorities undermines state sovereignty and runs contrary to one of the purposes of the Refugee Act: to give states a greater voice in making recommendations about refugee placement. Moreover, the consent requirement places an undue administrative burden on resettlement agencies, which would hinder the states’ abilities to deliver services. Since 2001, California has welcomed and resettled more than 100,000 refugees – more than any other state. California, like all the coalition states, has established a statewide system for facilitating funding for refugee placement in the state, as well as long-term services and programs to support refugees.

The executive order also undermines the Refugee Act’s family reunification provisions. Contrary to the act, the executive order would prevent family reunification, unless local governments consent, for certain refugees who have non-refugee family members already living in the United States. As a result, under the executive order, a refugee could be prevented from resettling in a community where they already have a child or sibling. Failing to adequately take existing familial ties into account contravenes congressional intent and directly harms efforts to maximize cultural supports that help refugees and their communities succeed. In 2015, refugees’ businesses generated $4.6 billion in income nationally and their spending power in California alone totaled more than $17.2 billion. A 2017 draft report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that refugees contributed $63 billion more in tax revenue than they received in public benefits over the preceding decade.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of those fleeing violence and persecution. In October, Attorney General Becerra co-led a multistate coalition in opposition to a Trump Administration rule seeking to illegally limit access to the asylum process. In November, the Attorney General filed a comment letter to defend the rights of abused, neglected, and abandoned children against the Trump Administration. In August, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit to defend the rights of immigrant children protected under the Flores Settlement Agreement.

In submitting the brief, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

A copy of the brief is available here.

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