March 28, 2003
Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510-3802
I write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the relief and development agency of the bishops. CRS is preparing to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people, especially those displaced by the consequences of war, and continues to address the critical needs of the poor and vulnerable throughout the world. As pastors and teachers, informed by our relief and development experience throughout the world, we write at a critical time in our nation's history.
The Bishops' Conference asks that the Committee ensure that the U.S. bears its full share of the responsibility to respond adequately to the already great needs of the Iraqi civilian population. As you begin work on the Iraq war supplemental appropriations, we urge you to include substantial funding for humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Iraq, provide adequate funding to address the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers, and increase funding to address the continuing relief and reconstruction needs in Afghanistan.
Because the duration of and devastation caused by the war are unknown, current estimates regarding the humanitarian situation in Iraq vary greatly. The bishops, however, are concerned that the Administration's funding request may be insufficient to adequately provide for humanitarian needs, and for reconstruction and peace-keeping. We urge you to provide the substantial resources necessary to effectively address these needs in the short and long term.
The Bishops' Conference urges an appropriation of $360 million for the Department of State's Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account to address the needs of refugees and displaced persons who will suffer as a result of military intervention in Iraq. We also ask that the supplemental appropriation for the MRA be available until expended. While the Conference is pleased that the Administration has requested an appropriation of $50 million for the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) account, we recommend an increase to $100 million for the ERMA account. As was requested by the Administration, we request this increase notwithstanding statutory limitations on ERMA funding levels and request the temporary lifting of such limitations. Finally, with regard to refugees overseas, the Conference encourages the inclusion of additional funding for the completion of the Security Advisory Opinions (SAO) process, to facilitate and accelerate security reviews for refugees, including Iraqis, being considered for resettlement in the United States.
We also urge a supplemental appropriation of $17 million to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which assumes responsibility for the care and custody of unaccompanied alien minors from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). We remain concerned about how the DHS will assume responsibility for former INS functions.
We oppose funding the detention of asylum-seekers based solely on their national origin, without an individualized assessment of security risk. The DHS has announced that "Operation Liberty Shield" requires the detention of all asylum-seekers from 33 designated countries for the duration of their asylum adjudication process, which can last months or even years. We believe this new policy is contrary to the basic norms of international law.
The U.S. should not forget its continuing responsibility to assist the people in Afghanistan with relief and reconstruction. We urge the Appropriations Committee to include $150 million in additional supplemental assistance to Afghanistan, focused on humanitarian and reconstruction needs.
While we applaud the Administration's recent commitment to contribute $15 billion over the next five years to stem the scourge of HIV/AIDS, the bishops believe that additional funding in this fiscal year is imperative to easing the burden of this disease for the millions suffering in sub-Saharan Africa. We urge Congress to include $500 million in FY 2003 supplemental funding for morally and culturally responsible programs to fight HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis. We believe this relatively small request could help save lives and alleviate suffering for thousands of people in Africa this year.
In addition, the Bishops' Conference is concerned that despite U.S. leadership in supplying food aid to Africa, the food crisis currently ravaging southern Africa, the Horn and the region of the Sahel will intensify if additional food aid is not forthcoming. We urge the Committee to appropriate $350 million in FY 2003 supplemental funding to meet the critical needs of the people of Africa. If not resolved, the funding crisis now being experienced is likely to deplete food aid and other resources, thus impeding the ability of other emergency relief organizations to meet the needs of Africans at risk.
Thank you for your continued leadership at this difficult time, and for your consideration of these matters.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, S.S.J.
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy