- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

A new program by the Bush administration to admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees into the United States this year is meeting with some resistance on both sides of the political aisle.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, says the policy flies in the face of U.S. law, and Ted Strickland, Ohio’s Democratic governor, says refugees are not welcome in his state.

“I think Ohio and Ohioans have contributed a lot to Iraq in terms of blood, sweat and too many tears,” Mr. Strickland said. “I am sympathetic to the plight of the innocent Iraqi people who have fled that country. However, I would not want to ask Ohioans to accept a greater burden than they already have borne for the Bush administration’s failed policies.”

In addition to opening U.S. borders to refugees, the United States will contribute $18 million for a worldwide resettlement and relief program for 20,000 Iraqi refugees this year.

Current law states that no Iraqi nationals should be permitted to enter the United States until the government of Iraq cooperates with U.S. efforts to repatriate Iraqi criminal aliens back to their home nation, Mr. Tancredo says.

Since 2003, the United States has allowed 463 Iraqi refugees to relocate, a number Mr. Tancredo calls “too many.”

“I believe caving in to this pressure would be a colossal mistake and would very likely violate U.S. law,” Mr. Tancredo said in a letter to Mr. Bush on Friday. “I hope you will resist pressure from international bureaucrats at the United Nations and order the Department of State to bring its policy in line with United States law.”

Up to 2 million Iraqis have fled their country, primarily to Syria and Jordan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month formed a special task force to coordinate refugee assistance. The administration announced last week the United States will accept one-third of the 20,000 refugees who will be screened and approved this year by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The United States cut back on the number of Iraqis seeking refuge after the September 11 terrorist attacks with tighter screening controls, said Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.

“The numbers dropped off so dramatically that UNHCR found it not a very attractive destination and were making very few referrals to the U.S.,” she said.

The program has the support of key Democrats in the Senate, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who say the United States should contribute $30 million, half the cost of refugee-resettlement worldwide.

“While we can’t solve this problem alone, we have a moral responsibility to do all that we can and provide the necessary leadership to prevent this crisis from getting worse,” said Mr. Kennedy. “Our invasion of Iraq led to this crisis, and we have a clear responsibility to do more to ease it.”

The process of seeking refuge in the United States is long and arduous, and Mrs. Sauerbrey concedes that only half, or about 3,500, will be ready to travel to the United States by September.

Only refugees who have been referred by UNHCR or by the U.S. Embassy in Iraq are eligible, and must first pass background checks, medical tests and other requirements.

Nongovernmental organizations determine where in the United States refugees are resettled based on the availability of housing, employment, needed services, readiness of host communities and a variety of other factors. If a refugee has a relative in the United States, every effort is made to resettle the refugee near that relative.

c This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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