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Documents Demanded on Iraqi Refugees

MANHATTAN (CN) - The United States is blowing off Congress' directive to care for the refugees we have produced in Iraq, and refusing to produce documents that show this neglect, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project says in a federal FOIA complaint.

The group (IRAP) is made up of law students from New York University, Columbia, Yale, the University of California-Berkley and Stanford, who joined forces with eight law firms to provide free legal services to refugees. It also offers on-site legal aid in Jordan through the University of Jordan Law School.

It says federal agencies have blown off its requests for data and documents on policies and procedures, to help Iraqi refugees immigrate to the United States.

IRAP says the war in Iraq has created a "massive refugee and humanitarian crisis"; 4.8 million Iraqis have been displaced, without adequate food, shelter or health care since the United States began the war in 2003. IRAP says 2 million of those refugees have fled to neighboring countries such as Syria or Jordan.

Congress ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Securities to come up with a plan for refugees under the Kennedy Act of 2008. The Act was meant to speed up resettlement of refugees who worked for some U.S.-based companies and organizations, "persecuted religious or minority groups," and any other groups as chosen by the Secretary of State. It also increased the number of special immigrant visas for interpreters.

IRAP says the United States admitted fewer than 2,608 refugees between 2003 and 2007. The treatment improved in 2008, when we accepted 13,823 refugees out of 28,886 applicants. But IRAP says that more than half of those accepted are still awaiting security clearance.

The complaint states: "Iraqi refugees have reported extensive processing delays, conflicting instructions from government officials and opaque proceedings, resulting in unduly stressful admission interviews and much frustration and uncertainty in their efforts to be resettled in the United States."

IRAP says that the United States denied an application for one family whose child was paralyzed from a spinal tumor and needed a "life-saving surgery." It says the family was not told how or to whom they should submit a request for reconsideration.

IRAP says another family who came to the U.S. lived off of charity from a "private citizen" because they were not directed to a resettlement agency.

IRAP says that in March this year it submitted FOIA requests to the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and that the agencies confirmed receipt of the requests but have not responded to them.

IRAP says it asked the agencies to expedite the documents and waive fees, since the requests are based on humanitarian and public interests, but those requests were unjustly denied.

The statutory time for an FOIA response is 20 days but the U.S. agencies have blown off IRAP for several months.

IRAP says it seeks to help the most needy refugees, who are suffering from "medical emergenc[ies], domestic abuse and human trafficking," and the religious minorities at risk of persecution; it needs policies, procedures, application data and other records to help get refugees to safety efficiently, and to represent them in the United States.

The group says it has served around 70 refugees since September 2008.

IRAP demands that the agencies expedite the documents and waive any fees. Lead counsel is Jyotin Hamid with Debevoise & Plimpton.

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