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Law School Chapters Across the United States Advocate to Improve Protections for Forcibly Displaced People

By the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. That number has only increased with the global uptick of armed conflicts, persecution, targeted violence, climate emergencies, and humanitarian crises in 2023. Low- and middle-income countries host 76 percent of the global population of forcibly displaced people. High income countries like the United States can and must do more to welcome people seeking safety. This year, in the face of concerning geopolitical circumstances and the upcoming U.S. presidential election, it is imperative that elected officials take action to effectively, efficiently, and equitably provide protections and pathways to safety for forcibly displaced people. 

Against this dire backdrop of rising human displacement worldwide, student delegates from IRAP’s 24 U.S. law school chapters engaged with U.S. Congressional offices during IRAP’s  annual Advocacy Week to highlight practical opportunities for elected leaders to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to upholding protections for people seeking safety. Since taking office, the Biden Administration has taken steps to create and protect some humanitarian protections and pathways to safety, other key areas for improvement continue to lag behind. Now more than ever, it is critical that Members of Congress come together to recognize the value and importance of ensuring that forcibly displaced people have a fair chance to find safe haven. 

During Advocacy Week, student delegates and IRAP staff members met with Congressional offices to advocate for concrete policy actions on two primary issue areas: bolstering the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (“USRAP”) and the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program (“SIV”). In addition to these two topline policy asks, students expressed their concern regarding proposed changes to asylum protections in the United States. They also drew attention to the serious humanitarian implications of defunding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (“UNRWA”), which provides vital services and resources to nearly six million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. 

Student delegates encouraged Members of Congress to support robust funding for USRAP in the next appropriations bill to allow the agency to meet the Biden Administration’s goal of admitting 125,000 refugees to the United States this fiscal year. While the administration has made important strides in recent fiscal years toward restoring the refugee admissions goal and actual resettlement numbers to historic norms, the United States must invest the necessary resources to rebuild the resettlement infrastructure to ensure both that the target numbers are met and that refugees have access to a functional resettlement process. Ensuring that USRAP vetting procedures are fair and efficient, including providing access to counsel in resettlement interviews and streamlining the family reunification process, will eliminate harmful backlogs, reduce the risk of discriminatory and arbitrary denials, and allow the program to better fulfill its humanitarian goals. 

Student delegates also urged Members of Congress to authorize an additional 20,000 Special Immigrant Visas and extend the SIV program for five years in light of the program’s tremendous backlog. The Afghan SIV program, which has since its inception enjoyed broad bipartisan support, provides a pathway to safety for individuals who face threats because of their work alongside the U.S. government in Afghanistan. Over the course of the United States’ 20 years in Afghanistan, Afghans on the ground contributed critically needed knowledge and specialized skills  to U.S. troops, diplomats, and humanitarian workers. Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, retaliatory harassment and violence toward U.S.-affiliated Afghans have escalated dramatically. With the current application backlog of more than 100,000 applicants and only approximately 10,000 visas available, the allocation of additional visas is an essential step in demonstrating Congress’s commitment to Afghan allies. 

Throughout the three-day event, around 75 students had the opportunity to meet with more than 50 Congressional offices from across the country and across the political spectrum to discuss these concerns, asks, and recommendations. This year’s Advocacy Week presented the first opportunity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for Washington D.C.-based IRAP chapters to engage with lawmakers in person on the Hill. Whether virtual or in-person, Advocacy Week meetings featured engaging and fruitful discussions with Congressional staffers (and some Members themselves) in which students had the opportunity to share their unique perspectives, insights, and experiences with stakeholders,  and emphasize the importance of welcoming people seeking safety to constituents from across the United States. As passionate advocates for the rights of refugees and other displaced persons, student delegates leapt at the chance to bring their policy recommendations directly to the halls of power. All in all, these few days offered a step forward in the advocacy journey of IRAP students.

Hear more about students’ Advocacy Week experiences. 

Pelin Ensari is a 1L at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law and is a 1L Policy Representative for the IRAP Chapter at UCLA. Pelin has volunteered with Syrian refugees in Istanbul, and contributed to the refugee and asylum law & policy discourse through her positions with the European Parliament and the Middle East Institute. 

Christine Connolly is a 2L at the George Washington University School of Law and serves as the Policy Director for GW’s IRAP Chapter. Prior to law school, Christine worked in refugee resettlement and immigration legal services. She spent her 1L summer working on impact litigation pertaining to civil right abuses in immigration detention and, during the academic year, volunteers with detained immigrants in the DMV area through the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.