The U.S. Congress Can Step Up for Refugees and Displaced People in 2020—Here’s How

While the U.S. administration is withdrawing from its global leadership role, some members of Congress are stepping up in important ways to help refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced people. In 2019, several bills were introduced in Congress that represent policy progress and if enacted, could create positive change. This year, Congress can take action to advance this legislation. Three innovative bills introduced in 2019 include the Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act of 2019 (H.R. 615), the NO BAN Act (H.R. 2214 and S.1123), and (S. 2565 and H.R. 4732), a bill to create a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy and authorize admission of climate-displaced persons.


The Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act of 2019

Addressing the Needs of Women and Girls: In 2019, Refugees International conducted 27 fact-finding missions to conflict zones and areas of forced displacement. From South Sudan to Greece to Venezuela, women and girls face unique challenges and vulnerabilities in displacement. For instance, women and girls in refugee and internally displaced persons camps are often at risk of assault and violence when using restrooms—especially at night—because they are often in areas that are poorly lit. To address this common threat, New York Representative Grace Meng introduced a bill proposing a simple and much-needed fix in January 2019, the Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act of 2019 (H.R. 615).  

What it does: If enacted, H.R. 615 would make restroom facilities in refugee camps safer for women and girls through a series of common-sense actions:

  • The bill would direct the U.S. Department of State to ensure that international and non-governmental organizations that benefit from U.S. refugee and migration financial assistance provide safe and secure access to restrooms.

  • This includes providing locks and well-lit pathways to facilities, a longstanding recommendation from Refugees International’s previous field reporting and from many in the humanitarian community.

What happens next: 

  • The bill passed the House of Representatives in May 2019 with 42 bipartisan cosponsors.

  • The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations where it must be reviewed before it can go to a full vote.

The bottom line: The fact that this bill had bipartisan support in the House was very promising and Refugees International is hoping to see movement on this bill in the Senate over the next year.  If passed through the Senate and enacted into law, this bill could improve the quality of life for displaced women and girls all over the world.



Upholding our Values and Pushing Back Against Discrimination: The National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act was introduced on April 10, 2019, by Representative Judy Chu in the House (H.R. 2214) and Senator Chris Coons in the Senate (S. 1123). The bill was introduced in direct response to President Trump’s Travel Ban discriminating against people from certain Muslim-majority countries, which sparked a nationwide backlash in the first week of his presidency in 2017. After the Supreme Court upheld the fourth version of the Travel Ban on June 26, 2018, it is now up to Congress to take action and repeal the policy that discriminates against Muslims and separates families.

What it does:

  • The bill repeals all versions of the Travel Ban.

  • It imposes limits on the President’s authority to unilaterally restrict access of aliens into the country.

  • It broadens the nondiscrimination provisions in the Immigrant and Nationality Act.

What happens next:

  • The NO BAN Act has 38 cosponsors in the Senate and 207 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.

  • Now that they have been introduced, the bills need to be brought up for consideration by the relevant House and Senate Committees.

The bottom line: Families and individuals are still affected by the Travel Ban. Thousands of Americans protested the enactment of the ban in 2017. Congress needs to act to protect civil liberties and reject religious discrimination.  


Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy

Confronting Climate Displacement: On September 27, 2019, Senator Ed Markey introduced a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind bill to address the urgent needs of people displaced by climate-related events worldwide (S.2565). As millions around the world become increasingly vulnerable to weather-related disasters, rising sea levels, and drought and famine exacerbated by climate change, this bill would extend protection under U.S. law and provide durable solutions.  

What it does:

  • The bill would require the U.S. Secretary of State and USAID Administrator to develop a comprehensive Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change in humanitarian emergencies or mass displacement crises.

  • The bill would establish a new humanitarian program to authorize the admittance of at least 50,000 “climate-displaced persons” into the United States.

What happens next:

  • The Senate version of the bill was introduced and needs to be considered by the Committee on Foreign Relations.

  • A House version of the legislation (H.R. 4732) was introduced by Representative Nydia Velazquez in October 2019 and needs to be considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bottom line: Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said it best when the legislation was introduced: “The need to acknowledge and address expanding migration challenges such as climate change is no longer up for debate. This legislation is a timely and important step forward that will provide additional protection measures, including resettlement opportunities, for those who have been displaced by environmental disasters or climate change.” 


What You Can Do

  • Make your voice heard: Check to see if your Representatives in Congress are sponsoring and supporting this legislation by checking or calling the Congressional Switchboard (202) 224-3121. If you support one of these bills, let them know!

  • Stay in the loop: Refugees International will be tracking the progress of these bills throughout the year. Follow us at @refugeesintl on Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our newsletter for updates on policy, and to hear more about why these reforms are needed based on our field reporting.