Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein

The Senate Judiciary Committee has adopted a measure to provide immigration visas to 5,000 displaced Tibetans residing in India and Nepal. The amendment, offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was passed by voice vote and incorporated into the immigration reform legislation being crafted by the Committee.

“The Feinstein amendment serves American domestic, humanitarian and foreign policy goals,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “This small measure sends a strong bipartisan statement of support for Tibet at a difficult time. It acknowledges the positive contributions that Tibetan-Americans have made and will make to American society, as evidenced by Chairman Patrick Leahy’s remarks about the Tibetan-American community in Vermont.”

Note video of the Committee’s debate on the Feinstein amendment can be found at at the 1:18 mark.

The Committee’s action is only one step in a long process. To become law, the Tibet provision would have to be included in the final immigration bill passed by both the House and the Senate. The present bill, once approved by the Judiciary Committee, still must be considered by the full Senate. The House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings this week that will shape its version of the legislation.

The amendment, cosponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is based on a measure approved by Congress in 1990 that brought 1,000 displaced Tibetans to the United States in the early 1990s. Private citizens and church sponsors in 18 cities across the U.S. found housing, jobs and transition services so that every immigrating Tibetan was supported and integrated into American society. There was no cost to the U.S. government. At the time, the U.S. government designated the Central Tibetan Administration as the partner agency to process applications in South Asia.

If the Tibet provision were enacted, the Departments of State and Homeland Security would be responsible for issuing regulations for implementation, including selection of partner organization(s) in India and Nepal.

In his recent visit to Washington on May 6-10, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay discussed with policy-makers the status of Tibetan refugee settlements in South Asia and the challenges that the Central Tibetan Administration faces in providing livelihoods for this population.

“Senator Feinstein and the Judiciary Committee should be commended for their foresight in responding to the needs of the displaced Tibetan population,” said Todd Stein. “This effort will provide relief to the stressed refugee settlements in India and Nepal, many of which are 50 years old. It will provide a tangible benefit to Tibetans as they strive to preserve their unique culture and identity as it is being eroded in their homeland.”

Some 100,000 Tibetans reside in settlements in South Asia. The infrastructure of the half-century old settlements is wearing out and the capacity to provide modern services and gainful employment cannot keep up with demand.

In her comments on the amendment, Senator Feinstein noted that “conditions inside Tibet remain bleak,” and cited the State Department’s documentation of serious human rights abuses in Tibet, including the heightened crackdown in response to the more than 110 self-immolations by Tibetans.

Tibetans continue to flee repression in Tibet by making a dangerous crossing over the Himalayan mountains to join His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan refugees in order to practice their religion, language and culture freely in exile. While the number of those coming from Tibet has declined due to strict controls on internal movement imposed by Chinese authorities, the new arrivals do add strain to the capacity of the existing settlements in India and Nepal.