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Refugees with Disabilities

  • Published: 2010-10-18 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-01) : Author: Chit Chat for Facebook
  • Synopsis: Disabled refugees are one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States.

Refugees with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States, yet an immigration regulation that limits public benefits for refugees in the country may just send elderly, at-risk, and disabled immigrants into debt.

Congress implemented a plan that puts a five-year restriction on welfare benefits for refugees in 1996. This policy limits elderly and refugees with disabilities from receiving Supplemental Security Income and other public services, with the idea that they should be able to obtain citizenship within that time. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many disabled refugees have a hard time getting a green card because of the rising cost of paperwork and immigration fees, administrative backlog, and the lack of funds to hire an immigration lawyer for help.

The policy has been modified several times in the past decade, due to obvious moral concern and pressure from the refugee community. Although the limit was changed to seven years in 1997, many disabled refugees were still at risk of losing public benefits; the new policy was not enough. Finally, President George W. Bush amended the original policy in 2008 to extend the five year restriction to nine years, adding an additional two years from the 1997 plan. This year, however, the problem is once again a major issue as the time line runs out for many disabled refugees. On October 1, 2010, about 4,000 disabled and elderly refugees who were unable to get citizenship status will be cut off from public benefits.

According to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, signed by a representative from the United States after World War II, the term refugee refers to immigrants who, "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." In other words, refugees who come to the United States are not voluntary immigrants who seek new jobs or economic benefits. Rather, they are survivors of war, torture, sex trafficking, or persecution who need protection by the United States government. Since many have no relatives in the United States and suffer from psychological problems as well as physical disabilities, these refugees depend on public benefits that will be cut off from them this month.

If the United States is committed to protecting vulnerable refugees, there should either be an easier path to citizenship or extended public benefits. The elderly and disabled refugees in question receive a maximum of $674 per month for individual applicants and a maximum of $1,011 for a couple. Since many can't work due to their physical handicaps, and most don't have family members in the country to lend them financial support, this is often the only income they have. President Obama is currently considering a bill that will extend the time limit for these refugees, but Congressional bottlenecking is preventing any actions from being made.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed a plan that will extend benefits for one year, giving thousands of disabled refugees a second chance at speeding up their citizenship applications. While the bill would cost over $20 million in extra funds, another policy that places stricter fees on unemployment fraud would cover the costs of the one year extension. Only time will tell if the United States federal government can offer these refugees the protection and financial security they need. In the meantime, we can expect a major overhaul of immigration reform to prevent decades-long backlogs of citizenship applications.

This article was written by Hope Nunzio, and sponsored by the desktop Facebook login software Chit Chat for Facebook. Chit Chat is Facebook application that makes it much easier for visually disabled users to communicate with their friends and family when used in combination with a screen reading application such as Jaws. The chat messenger interface and instant messages can be easily and confidently read out using Jaws -

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