Interviews: In Search of a Durable Solution

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

August 2004

Note: Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren continues to represent California's 16th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2007, we asked U.S. Representative Tom Lantos from California's 12th district to update us on the state of American refugee policy.

POV: What does the Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus do?

Zoe Lofgren

Congressman Zoe Lofgren: It's an interesting experience because the members of the Refugee Caucus are very different politically -- Representative Chris Smith [a Republican co-chair of the Refugee Caucus] and I work together on these issues. The Refugee Caucus is an informal caucus that doesn't operate permanently. We work on an as-needed basis, primarily through our staffers. We recently had the "Lost Boys" film shown on Capitol Hill, and as a consequence the information level was exponentially raised. Recently we've been pretty active trying to get the United States to take effective action relative to the situation in Sudan. The House recently passed a resolution calling it genocide. And we want to work with the administration to have them do the same thing. We recently met with Secretary Powell for our annual refugee consultation, and raised the issue of Darfur. He deserves some credit [for calling the situation in Darfur genocide].

Lost Boys of Sudan - Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya

POV: What do you see as the purpose of American refugee policy?

Lofgren: Its purpose is twofold: we are a country founded to be the beacon of freedom, an inspiration to the world; and as the leader of the free world, we have a moral responsibility to reach out to those who are miserable and suffering, and to assist them. It's important to promulgate freedom throughout the world, by doing the right thing so that refugees can stand up to oppression, and can have a chance of salvation through our refugee programs.

POV: In the two years after 9/11, the United States admitted far fewer refugees than it would normally accept, due to additional security measures. What changes have been made in policy, or what changes should be made?

Lofgren: The Refugee Caucus has raised that repeatedly with the administration. Last year, there were 50,000 allocated, and Secretary Powell says that number will be met. Next year, we believe we will get back on track.

POV: Some of the refugees in the film are surprised by how difficult it is for them to succeed in the United States, because they're largely working on their own, while they're used to drawing on more communal resources. They are supported by local agencies, contracted by the government. Are there changes you'd like to see in this process

Lofgren: That is something that we're looking at. It's been discussed, but there has been no request for funding. There are ideas like a Refugee Corps to try and help assist refugees. There's been some discussion of refugees, and whether the resources provided by the federal government to NGOs are making it out of the headquarters and into the field. The truth is that if you are a refugee from a country where there's no real modern amenities, where you may have been tortured, it's a tremendous challenge to begin living in an urban area in the United States. Before I was elected to the House, I first served in county government, and we made a large effort in Santa Clara county, through an office we funded locally to help refugees relocate. What I think is resonant about these refugees is the tremendous strength they show. They make great Americans, because they have shown they have the toughness, grit, and the inspiration to make it here.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has represented California's 16th District since 1994. Prior to being elected to the House of Representatives, she taught immigration law at the University of Santa Clara School of Law. She serves on the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, and is co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus.

2007 UPDATE:
Congressman Tom Lantos answers updated questions about U.S. refugee policy  »