Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith

NEW JERSEY's 4th DISTRICT

<span class="kicker">'Sean and David Goldman Act' to Become Law</span> Congress Clears Smith’s Int’l Child Abduction Bill

2014/07/25

Today, nearly five years after U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced his first bill to prevent international parental child abduction standing alongside “left behind” parents in front of the Capitol, Congress gave final approval to his legislation, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, House of Representatives Bill 3212 (H.R. 3212).

    Smith wrote the original proposed legislation in 2009 subsequent to his personal intervention in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey, years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother.  Smith’s successful work with Sean’s father, David, and a team of lawyers—including Patricia Apy, of Red Bank, NJ—and volunteers helped bring Sean home, but also uncovered gaping weaknesses in U.S. law and the need to codify best practices so that other Americans will also see their children returned home.

    “In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea of change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation.  There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.

    “Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fights to recover their children. Every day a child is separated from his or her rightful parent and home in the United States brings immense suffering to both parent and child. The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”

    David Goldman watched the final House approval on television today with excitement. He stood by Smith in 2009 when the legislation was first unveiled.

    “It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families. Next step: the White House.

    At its core, Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure foreign governments to send home American children abducted to overseas destinations. The bill also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.

    During his five year struggle, Smith has authored four versions of the bill (HR 3240; HR 1940; HR 1951 and HR 3212) using each to educate his colleagues and make modifications aimed at winning widespread support in an increasingly partisan Congress.  In December 2013, the House passed Smith’s bill, 398-0.  Smith noted the work of Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Republican Bob Corker when the bill passed the Senate on July 16th, with some final modifications.

    Smith named the bill after David and Sean Goldman who have been reunited in Monmouth County for nearly five years.  Following Sean’s return to New Jersey, David Goldman has stayed active in promoting the legislation in an effort to spare other parents and children the painful, illegal separation he and his son endured for five years.

    Smith has held multiple hearings on the heartbreaking cases of  left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries, from which few are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty to address parental abductions. The Hague provides a civil framework for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and facilitation of visitation and contact between parents and children during the pendency of the case and after the resolution. Unfortunately, many Hague signatories, like Brazil, fail to consistently enforce the Hague Convention provisions.
    
    Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children:

> a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels);
> an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
> a public condemnation;
> a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
> the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
> the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
> the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
> a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.

    The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or other bilateral agreements with both Hague Convention and non-Hague Convention countries, to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance.  Smith noted that countries that have signed the Hague Treaty, like Japan, may still need an additional MOU to help those left-behind parents that were separated from their children prior to treaty accession.

    H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress when a child has been abducted from their districts. It also directs the Secretary of Defense to designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.”

    “Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.

    More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year.  Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department.  Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.

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    Global Autism Hearing Looks at Ways to Help ASD Individuals Reach Full Potential

    2014/07/24

    A congressional panel charged with examining global health issues today reviewed expert testimony about the increase in prevalence of autism and the urgent need for new strategies to help people with autism reach their full potential.

         “The global incidence of autism is steadily increasing and is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups,” said committee chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) who has authored several pieces of landmark autism legislation and is the cofounding chairman of the congressional autism caucus, the Coalition for Autism, Research and Education (CARE).

         “Our particular focus today is on the issue of “aging out,” Smith said.  “The demographics of autism are changing.  Children with autism, who have often received support within their schools and communities, are now growing up in a world unprepared to meet them.” Click here to read Smith’s full remarks.

        Entitled the “Global Challenge of Autism”, the hearing was one in a series of hearings conducted by Smith, the chairman of the Africa, Global Human Rights and International Organizations subcommittee.

        In his opening statement, Smith noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 68 children in the United States is affected with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In New Jersey, it is 1 in 45 children, and globally, these numbers are estimated at 1 in 138 individuals.

        “People with autism are often faced with segregation, low expectations, impoverished conditions and denial of opportunity,” said Theresa Hussman, board member of the Autism Society in her testimony. “Today, if you are an adult living with autism, you will likely be unemployed or vastly under-employed.”

        In response, autism advocates are working to erase the stigma of autism and advance opportunities for those on the spectrum. Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist Ron Suskind is the parent of a child with regressive autism, yet remains optimistic about his son’s potential: “For every visible defect, there is an equal and opposing strength.”

        Industry has taken notice of what they believe is an untapped pool of talent within the autism community- particularly STEM companies, which value the technical abilities and high levels of concentration often found in individuals with high-functioning autism.
     
        One company which has taken an interest in the autism community is SAP, a software corporation headquartered in Walldorf, Germany with offices all over the world. “We believe that there is a strong affinity between the natural ways of our colleagues on the spectrum and software development and IT,” said committee witness Jose Velasco, Vice President of Product Management at SAP.  “There is a real opportunity to leverage the skills of people with autism in the workplace.”

        Velasco is the head of the company’s Autism at Work Initiative, which aims to hire and support employees with autism. By 2020, SAP hopes that 1% of its workforce will be represented by people on the autism spectrum.

        To meet this goal, SAP has developed a system of both identifying job candidates and retaining them once they are hired. Realizing that persons with autism often lack interview skills, SAP has replaced the traditional hiring process with one more accessible for individuals on the spectrum. Velsaco testified that these hiring policies benefit not only individuals on the autism spectrum but also the industry’s bottom line. He said SAP has been approached by more than 15 companies interested in implementing similar programs.

         “We too often see people with ASD as victims who must be cared for, when the focus which their condition produces may allow them to be highly successful in certain endeavors,” Smith said. “When we begin to look at people with ASD in this light, we can better see how they can be enabled to contribute to society.  It just requires understanding of their potential as well as their limitations.”

         
    Smith is the author of HR 4631, the “Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2014 (Autism CARES Act)” which passed the House June 24. Autism CARES authorizes $1.3 billion over five years for research into autism, and asks federal agencies to examine and anticipate needs for autistic children who are aging out of current programs. Smith also wrote the Global Autism Assistance Act of 2013, which establishes health and education grant programs to serve children with autism in developing countries.

        Smith’s Autism CARES Act is pending in the Senate where it is expected to receive favorable consideration before the end of the session.

        Also testifying at the hearing were Thorkil Sonne, Founder and Chairman of Specialisterne, and Michael Rosanoff, Associate Director of Public Health Research at Autism Speaks. Click here to read testimonies or to watch the hearing.

     

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    <span class="kicker">Freedom at Last:</span>Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Die for Her Faith Arrives in Rome, En Route to the U.S.

    2014/07/24

        Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman of the congressional panel on Africa and global human rights, today celebrated the release and freedom of the Sudanese woman imprisoned and sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

        Yesterday, Smith held a hearing as part of a series of ongoing efforts to highlight the plight of Mariam Ibrahim and give new impetus to her stalled departure from Sudan. Meriam Ibrahim, her husband Daniel Wani, and their two children were detained in Sudan on June 23rd, after originally being told they could leave the country following her release from prison.

        Smith expressed relief and thanks upon hearing of the family's arrival in Rome and praised Meriam Ibrahim who he called “a remarkable and extraordinarily courageous woman.”

        “Meriam Ibrahim’s faith in God and willingness to endure torture – even martyrdom – rather than recant her faith, is extraordinarily courageous and inspiring. What a remarkable woman,” Smith has said. Meriam Ibrahim’s convictions on apostasy and adultery for having married a Christian were overturned by a Sudanese appeals court in June but the family was then stopped from leaving the country.  Today with the assistance of the governments of Italy and the Holy See, along with an international community that honors religious freedom, Meriam and her family are in Italy and on their way to the United States.  Meriam’s husband Daniel and their two children are American citizens.

         “We are all deeply appreciative to the government of Italy, as well as Pope Francis, for the role they played in helping to bring this nightmare to a successful conclusion.” Smith said.  “We are delighted Meriam and family will be making their home in the United States and look forward to working with them to advance religious rights and freedoms worldwide.”

         
    At Smith’s Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, witnesses expressed frustration and concern that, while finally together, the family was still unable to leave the Sudan and the U.S. Embassy where they were staying for fear of their safety.

        Smith originally scheduled his hearing on the case for June 24th, but postponed it based on assurances that the family would soon be free.  When the family was detained and not allowed to leave Sudan, Smith rescheduled the hearing for this week and announced plans for more in the future.

         Click here to read Smith’s opening remarks at the July 23 hearing entitled “The Troubling Case of Meriam Ibrahim.”  Witnesses at the hearing included: Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council; Grover Joseph Rees, Former General Counsel, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and, Omar Omer Ismail, Senior Policy Advisor, The Enough Project.

     

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    Sudanese Woman Jailed & Sentenced to Die for Her Faith Focus of House Hearing

    2014/07/23

    The Sudanese woman recently sentenced to death for not recanting her faith was the topic of a congressional hearing Wednesday, July 23 held by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights issues.

        “The world watched as Meriam Ibrahim Ishag, a pregnant Christian woman in Sudan, faced flogging and the death penalty because her government would not accept that she had lived her life as a Christian and married a Christian man,” Smith said. “Meriam has demonstrated both courage and grace under pressure – giving birth in jail in May while chained and caring for her two children, including her newborn, not only under restraints, but also without the normal amenities that any pregnant women and nursing mother should expect. “The harsh application of sha’ria law on non-Muslims was the trigger for a two-decade civil war in Sudan and the eventual secession of the South.  Sudan is one of 20 countries in the world who have laws against apostasy – defined as the abandonment by an individual of their original religion.” Click here to read Smith’s opening remarks.

        “The Troubling Case of Meriam Ibrahim,” was the title of the  hearing to be held before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on global human rights. The vice-chairman of the bipartisan U.S. federal government organization—the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)— led off testimony on the plight of the woman, who was pregnant and even forced to have her child born in prison while she was shackled.

        Smith planned to have a hearing June 24 on the case, but postponed it because it appeared she would be released jail and leave Sudan. She was in fact released June 23, but was later rearrested when she tried to leave the country. She was released again and is now waiting to be allowed to leave the country.

        “This hearing was originally supposed to take place in June, but at the urging of both the U.S. government and Sudanese officials, we postponed it to allow for quiet diplomacy to take place,” Smith said. “However, Meriam’s legal entanglements seem to be increasing rather than diminishing.  We intend for this hearing to be an appeal to the Government of Sudan to use their legal authority to end the official entanglements Meriam has faced since her arrest in January and subsequent trial.”

        Testifying at the hearing were (click on name to read opening testimonies):Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., Commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council; Grover Joseph Rees, Former General Counsel, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and, Omar Omer Ismail, Senior Policy Advisor, The Enough Project.

        “The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag rightly has garnered international attention and condemnation and will continue to do so until she and her family are allowed to leave for freedom in the United States,” said Jasser, noting he is a Muslim. “Hopefully this hearing will also draw attention to the ongoing violations of religious freedom in Sudan for which Sudan has been designated a ‘country of particular concern’ by the State Department since 1999.”

        “Though Sudan is certainly not the worst offender of religious freedom worldwide, the country historically has not had a stellar record on religious toleration,” said Perkins, who noted the law under which Miriam was convicted was enacted in 1991. “Christians have been detained by the National Intelligence Security Services and church buildings have been demolished and vandalized.”

        Ismail that said across the country, the government of Sudan is the main perpetrator and culprit in the violence suffered by millions of Sudanese who the government considers enemies for no other reason than exercising their basic human right of freedom of religion.

        “This government flaunts a brand of Islam and promotes a racial identity that is exclusive and divisive and is met with wide rejection and resistance among the majority of the Sudanese people,” Ismail said. “In any democratic society that respects human rights, Mariam would not be considered a criminal because she would be granted the right to choose her own religion. The government of Sudan, however, not only ignores its citizens’ human rights, it disrespects its own constitution and the laws drawn from it. According to the Sudanese Interim National Constitution of 2005, “every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship.” In spite of this, the practice of the government of Sudan is all but adhering to its contract with the Sudanese people.”

        Rees’s testimony addressed whether the two children of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani are United States citizens who should be given appropriate documentation of their citizenship and afforded such protection and assistance as the government of the United States gives its citizens who are residing or visiting in other countries.

     

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    Global Autism Epidemic Hearing to Explore Ways to Help Young Adults with ASD Function in Society

    2014/07/22

        The fight against the epidemic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how governments can help individuals with autism function in society, especially in educational and workplace settings, will be the topic of a hearing to be held by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) Thursday.

        “The Global Challenge of Autism” is the title of the hearing of the House global health subcommittee.

        “Autism is a growing health problem around the world,” said Chairman Smith.  “With the ever-rising cost of care, it is imperative that people with autism have the opportunity to learn skills and earn a living so that they can control their own lives as much as possible. Our hearing will present innovative strategies to achieve that goal.”
     
             Who:               Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the House’s global health  subcommittee and co-chair of the bipartisan Coalition on Autism Research and Education (CARE); other members of the subcommittee, and; witnesses: 
    • Jose H. Velasco, Vice President of Product Management and Head of Autism at Work Initiative SAP

    • Thorkil Sonne, Founder and Chairman, Specialisterne

    • Theresa Hussman, Board Member, Autism Society

    • Michael Rosanoff , Associate Director, Public Health Research, Autism Speaks

    • Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and autism advocate

      What:              “The Global Challenge of Autism”

      When:               Thursday, July 24 @ 2 p.m.                                              

      Where:            Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building (second floor)

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    Exactly Five Years to the Day of First Introduction, Smith’s Int’l Child Abduction Bill Passes Senate; Heads Back to House for Final Approval

    2014/07/18

    On Wednesday, July 16, exactly five years to the day that Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced his first bill to prevent international parental child abduction, the U.S. Senate finally approved Smith’s legislation, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, House of Representatives Bill 3212 (H.R. 3212).

        Smith wrote the original proposed legislation in 2009 subsequent to his personal intervention in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey, years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother.  Smith’s successful work with Sean’s father, David, and a team of lawyers, volunteers and media helped bring Sean home, but also uncovered gaping weaknesses in U.S. law and the need to codify best practices so that other Americans will also see their children returned home.

        At its core, Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure foreign governments to send home American children abducted to overseas destinations. The bill also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.

        During his five year struggle, Smith has authored four versions of the bill (HR 3240; HR 1940; HR 1951 and HR 3212) using each to educate his colleagues and make modifications aimed at winning widespread support in an increasingly partisan congress.  In December 2013, the House passed Smith’s bill unanimously, 398-0.  Smith said he was grateful that Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Republican Bob Corker released the bill out of committee to the Senate floor where it passed unanimously in a voice vote, with some final modifications.

        “In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation.  There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.

        “Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fights to recover their children. Every day a child is separated from his or her rightful parent and home in the United States brings immense suffering to both parent and child. The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”

        In 2013, Smith named the bill after David and Sean Goldman who have been reunited in Monmouth County for nearly five years.  Following Sean’s return to New Jersey, David Goldman has stayed active in promoting the legislation in an effort to spare other parents and children the painful, illegal separation he and his son endured for five years.

        Smith has held multiple hearings on the heartbreaking cases of  left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries, from which few are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty to address parental abductions. The Hague provides a civil framework for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and facilitation of visitation and contact between parents and children during the pendency of the case and after the resolution. Unfortunately, many Hague signatories, like Brazil, fail to consistently enforce the Hague Convention provisions.

        Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children: 

    > a demarche;
    > an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
    > a public condemnation;
    > a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
    > the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
    > the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
    > the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
    > a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.

        The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding or other bilateral agreements with non-Hague Convention countries to locate and foster the return of
    abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance.

        H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress about abducted children from their districts. It also that directs the Secretary of Defense shall designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.

        “Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.

        More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year.  Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department.  Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.

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    On the Passing of Bob Roe

    2014/07/15

    Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), dean of the New Jersey congressional delegation, released the following statement on the passing of former New Jersey Congressman Bob Roe Tuesday:

        “Bob Roe was an extraordinarily effective lawmaker, always fair, tenacious, focused—a true workhorse for the people,” said Smith. “As chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, he made enduring contributions to the infrastructure of not only New Jersey but the rest of the nation as well. I will miss him.”

        Smith noted that even after his retirement, Roe would visit him occasionally in Washington.  Smith, a Republican first elected in 1980, served for more than a decade with Roe, a Democrat elected in 1969 who left office in 1993.

     

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    African Orphan Crisis Focus of Hearing

    2014/07/14

    The fate of Africa's children with no parents and a bleak future was the topic of a House hearing held today by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the Africa and global human rights subcommittee.

        The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, adoptive parents and advocacy groups testified on options to ease the crisis, including international adoptions. The hearing was entitled “The Growing Crisis of Africa's Orphans.” The factors contributing to the crisis include war and civil unrest, children who don’t know if their mothers and fathers are alive or dead after they become separated in  flight for sanctuary, HIV/AIDS, which has wreaked havoc on the continent, and other diseases.

        “The orphans of Africa, if grouped together in a single country, would be the fourth largest country in all of Africa,” said Smith, referring to the millions of orphans of Africa. “Behind every statistic about orphaned children, behind the pie charts and graphs, there is also a portrait in miniature: a lonely child who is left without a mother or a father, perhaps dealing each night with the pangs of hunger pain, or just seeking a place where one can lay one’s head down in safety until the morning comes.  That child awakes to forage and fend for another day.  Behind every statistic, there is a young boy or girl who has to deal with the sense of abandonment, or with the trauma of having seen parents killed before his or her eyes.

        “One remedy for this crisis is inter-country adoption, which sometimes brings children from Africa to our shores to provide them with loving homes. This is, of course, only a partial remedy, because for every child who is given a loving home, there are many more for whom there never will be such a refuge,” Smith said. Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening statement.

        The Democratic Republic of the Congo is of particular concern for suspending the issuance of exit permits for Congolese children adopted by foreign parents– even though parents have been officially declared the legal guardians under Congolese law. More than 900 American families are caught up in varying stages of this adoption limbo.

        Witnesses (click on name to read testimony) includedRobert P. Jackson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Kelly Dempsey, General Counsel and Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Both Ends Burning; Shimwaayi Muntemba, Founder, Zambia Orphans of AIDS; Jovana Jones, Adoptive mother of a Congolese child, and; Muluemebet Chekol Hunegnaw, Senior Director, International Programs, Save the Children.

        “We know children can be vulnerable to international and domestic human trafficking, whether through sex trafficking, forced child soldiering, or forced labor,” Jackson testified. “Children throughout the continent are exploited in domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in a variety of sectors, including mining, fishing, cattle herding, and harvesting coffee or rice. Armed conflict and other instability, poor economic conditions, food insecurity, rural poverty, and lack of social safety nets can also leave children vulnerable.

        “There are so many ways for us to help children in Africa, and it is important for us to work collaboratively to address the issue with a survivor-centered approach: lobbying countries for laws to protect them, supporting efforts to implement those laws, and establishing protective services in conjunction with civil society,” Jackson said.

        Lindborg recounted her March visit to South Sudan, where violence and insecurity have forced more than 1.5 million people from their homes since December.

        “Among those fleeing are thousands of children separated from their families – some sent to safety by parents desperate to save their children,” Lindborg said. “Others became separated from their parents during the recent violence that has ravaged their country.

        “While the needs and challenges in these settings are often overwhelming, I have seen the enormous difference USAID-supported programs can make in the lives of those affected,” Lindborg said.

        Jones, who is an adoptive mother of a Congolese child, testified that she has been waiting three years to bring home her adopted daughter, Ana Lei.

        “As adoptive parents, we’ve spent years preparing and it is imperative that our children come home immediately,” Jones said. “We have done our part. Our families have done all we can and we are at our limit. We boldly ask for the backing and support of our President, congressmen, and elected officials, that you all draw your focus on removing any further delays of the adoption process within the countries of Africa. We sincerely appreciate the efforts that have been made thus far, but frankly it’s not enough. It’s not enough until we have each orphan home with his or her American family. Each moment of delay makes it more difficult for them to adjust and more challenging for the parents to provide them care. Our arms are open now, and our homes are ready to receive them today.”

     

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    'Leahy Law,’ Nigeria Crisis Focus of House Hearing

    2014/07/10

    Helping the Nigerian government in its fight against the notorious terror group called Boko Haram was the topic of a House hearing held Thursdayby U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the Africa and global human rights subcommittee.
     
        “Boko Haram has significantly accelerated its acts of mass murder and abduction in Nigeria, requiring a more robust and effective response from the Government of Nigeria and friends like the United States,” said Smith, who has traveled to Nigeria twice in the past year. “If individuals or elements of a larger force are guilty of human rights violations, entire battalions or regiments can be tainted unless the guilty are identified and separated out from those forces that are innocent of such crimes. The Leahy laws allow for the re-creation of ‘clean’ units. On the surface, it would seem that such a policy is clear and possible to implement.  Unfortunately, it seems not to be so simple in practice.

        “I believe the so-called Leahy laws are necessary components of a prudent human rights policy, and today’s hearing is intended to find out whether there are legitimate obstacles to their implementation,” Smith said.  “Where they exist, we seek to identify these obstacles and eliminate them.” Click here to read the chairman’s opening statement.

        Since the 1990s, a requirement to providing training, better known as the Leahy laws, is intended to prevent the United States government from assisting foreign military/security forces involved in human rights violations. The Leahy laws cover material assistance, including equipment, and training and requires investigation of allegations of human rights violations by military and security forces, including police. These investigations, performed mostly by the Department of State, require details on not only individuals, but also military units. Delays or inability to obtain such information as name and date and place of birth can indefinitely stall an investigation.

        The hearing, entitled “Human Rights Vetting: Nigeria and Beyond,” featured five witnesses (click on the name to read the witnesses written testimony): Col. Peter Aubrey, U.S. Army (RET), Former Director, Security Cooperation for United States Army, Africa, and the Defense and Army Attaché to the Federal Republic of the Nigeria, and current President of Strategic Opportunities International; Lauren Ploch Blanchard, Specialist in African Affairs at the Congressional Research Service, and analyst on African political, military and diplomatic affairs, and on U.S. policy in the region; Elisa Massimino, President and Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights First; Stephen Rickard, Director, Washington Office, Open Society Foundations, founder of the Freedom Investment Project to encourage U.S. support for international justice, former director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and Washington director for Amnesty International USA; Sarah Margon, Washington Director Human Rights Watch.

        Smith held a hearing on Nigeria in November 2013 featuring the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of African Affairs. The congressman visited the country in September 2013 and June 2014, and is the sponsor of the ‘‘Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2013,’’H.Res. 3209. The State Department agreed to make the declaration at the November 13, 2013, House hearing chaired by Smith.

        “We cannot engage and professionalize a force if it has committed or has been accused of committing actions we find objectionable. Of course, that means that we will not have the opportunity to insert ourselves in professionalization efforts for the force in question or help eradicate that behavior or action we find objectionable or rapidly help in moments of crisis,” said Aubrey. “Despite its noble intent, there is a negative side to these provisions. Cumbersome, time consuming validation and vetting of local national forces ensure that a rapid response to emergency training requirements will not occur.”

        Blanchard said Nigeria provides an example of the challenges U.S. policymakers face in building foreign counterterrorism capacities. “By many accounts, developing countries like Nigeria that are struggling with terrorist threats may desperately need the specialized skills and support that U.S. security assistance is designed to provide,” she said.

        Massimino noted Smith came to Congress at about the same time that Human Rights First was established, and both been working together ever since. She stressed that human rights should remain among the highest of priorities in U.S. foreign policy. She said human rights vetting requirements like the Leahy Laws—are critical to U.S. leadership.

        “No one in the Congress—and very few outside of it—can match your passion and persistence,” Massimino said. “You are a constant reminder to your colleagues that respect for human rights is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing, too.”

        Rickard said that he viewed the Leahy Laws as “common sense laws” that prohibit the United States Government from arming or providing military training to security force and police units abroad who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights violations.

        “The Leahy Laws don’t actually prohibit the U.S. from working with even these units – the ones that have committed murder and torture, Rickard said. “It only says that the U.S. cannot arm or train them until the foreign government takes steps to clean up the unit.”

        Margon said the Leahy Law is a key tool to address security force abuse in Nigeria – and elsewhere.

        “I am very pleased this subcommittee is taking a closer look at human rights vetting, otherwise known as the ‘Leahy Law,’ and its application,” Margon said. “Simply put, the Leahy Law is an important means to ensure that the US does not become complicit in grave human rights abuses abroad and that it upholds its international legal obligations. In and of itself, this would be a laudable goal. But it also makes sense within the larger foreign policy context since militaries that commit abuses can also exacerbate long-standing grievances, escalate atrocities, foment political instability, and provide abusive armed opposition groups and terrorist organizations with a very powerful recruiting tool.”
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    Smith Manages Bill on House Floor to Reauthorize Int'l Religious Freedom Commission

    2014/07/08

    U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee today managed debate of H.R. 4653, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act. Smith gave the following statement on the House floor:

    "Mr. Speaker, I move that the House suspend the rules and pass H.R. 4653, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2014, as amended, authored by Chairman Frank Wolf of Virginia.

    "H.R. 4653 demonstrates the strong bipartisan support that exists for religious freedom, with nearly an equal number of Republican and Democrat co-sponsors.  This makes for a powerful statement in a world where we see the rights of religious minorities and conscientious objectors being trampled upon in countries where intolerant ideologies, be they of a sectarian or secular nature, seek to crush moral and spiritual thought and conscience.

    "The headlines are filled with examples.  A 27-year old mother in Sudan was imprisoned and faced a death sentence in Sudan because under Sharia law she was considered an apostate as the child of a Muslim father, even though the only religion she herself had ever professed was Christianity.  To this day, Meriam Ibrahim remains unable to leave Sudan.

    "Anti-Semitism, pervasive and lethal in the Middle East, has spread like a cancer in many parts of Europe and has resurfaced in Ukraine with a series of shocking and violent attacks following the ouster of former Prime Minister Yanukovich. 

    "In Communist dictatorships such as China, religious believers are imprisoned, tortured and even executed for attempting to practice their faith.  In China today, there is a pernicious, escalating war on believers made worse by the wanton brutality of the regime’s ubiquitous secret police.  In North Korea, the situation couldn’t be more dire, with Christians in particular subject to what human rights observers have termed genocide, dying by the tens of thousands from starvation and torture in concentration camps for daring to hold true to their consciences—that innermost sanctuary of the individual.

    "Tragically, many countries of the world are a long way from achieving the human right of religious freedom recognized by Article 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

    "In 1998, with great legislative skill, commitment and driving passion, Chairman Frank Wolf pushed a supportive Congress but highly reluctant White House into enacting a singularly important human rights law—the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).  

    "For the first time ever, Frank Wolf’s law made the protection and promotion of religious freedom a serious priority in U.S. foreign policy by creating an Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, by establishing the Office of International Religious Freedom at the Department of State—which among other duties, compiles the International Religious Freedom Reports on every country in the world—and by crafting  the independent-minded U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the subject of today’s reauthorization.

    "Importantly, Frank Wolf’s landmark law also created a system for naming and taking action against Countries of Particular Concern, or CPCs.  History has shown that when the U.S. elevates religious freedom and that priority is conveyed to Countries of Particular Concern, conditions often change for the better, prisoners of conscience gain their freedom and progress is made in the free or at least freer exercise of religious liberty.    

    "According to the Commission, three themes guide Commissioner’s discussions on priority countries with severe violations of religious freedom: state-sponsored hostility to and repression of religion; state-sponsored extremist ideology and education; and state failure to prevent and punish religious freedom violations (impunity). Several of the CPC countries that systematically violate religious freedom fall into all three categories

    "Mr. Speaker, when an Administration—be it Republican or Democrat—demotes or trivializes religious freedom to a minor talking point, human rights abusing nations construe such indifference as license to harass and exploit persons of faith.

    "Since its founding, the International Religious Freedom Commission has issued 15 annual reports and 14 special reports covering 76 countries.  Of these, the Commission has identified 16 of these as countries that should be designated CPCs.

    "I should also point out that in the Commission has acted as a true watchdog, recommending with incisive commentary twice as many countries as CPCs than the State Department has designated as Countries of Particular Concern.  This includes nations such as Vietnam, which is an egregious violator of the rights of religious minorities.  The Commission, however, calls it like it is and pulls no punches.

    "It is unfortunate that, while CPC designations remain, the penalties associated with the designations have now essentially lapsed. The last designations by the Obama Administration were in 2011, and as two years have passed, the sanctions directly linked to the International Religious Freedom Act’s sanctions authority have expired.  This failure to implement our law on religious freedom sends a deeply troubling message to violators of this fundamental human right.  It is thus even more important that we in Congress speak with a clear voice today.

    "Two and a half years ago, after passing with strong bipartisan support in the House, reauthorization for the Commission got bogged down in the Senate.

    "This time we hope we can avoid such a repeat.  In the House there has been tremendous cooperation on both sides of the aisle.  We have had excellent input from the Commission throughout this process, including testimony from then-Chairman Dr. Robert George of Princeton University, at a hearing my subcommittee held this past May 22.  (On July 1, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett was elected as the new Chair, Dr. George is now Vice Chair.)  Members from religious minority communities – Muslim, Bah’ai and Christian – spoke about the importance of the work of the Commission in Iran, China and Pakistan helping shine a light on the serious abuses that take place in all three countries, and in so doing, elevated an issue that is of grave concern in far too many countries of the world today.

    "I therefore ask all our colleagues to join us in supporting this fine bipartisan piece of legislation, sending an important message to the world that the United States values religious liberty, and that it should continue to be a cornerstone of our foreign policy."

     

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    Contact Information

    2373 Rayburn HOB
    Washington, DC 20515
    Phone 202-225-3765
    Fax 202-225-7768
    chrissmith.house.gov

    Committee Assignments

    Foreign Affairs

    Elected in 1980, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville, N.J.) is currently in his 17th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and serves residents in the Fourth Congressional District of New Jersey. Smith, 60, currently serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is chairman of its Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. In 2011-2012 he chaired both the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also serves as “Special Representative” on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Previously, he served as Chairman of the Veterans Committee (two terms) and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Africa.

    Smith has long chaired a number of bipartisan congressional caucuses (working groups) including the Pro-life (31 years), Autism (15 years), Alzheimer’s (13 years), Lyme Disease (nineyears), Spina Bifida (nine years), Human Trafficking (nine years), Refugees (nine years), and Combating Anti-Semitism caucuses, and serves on caucuses on Bosnia, Uganda and Vietnam.

    According to the independent watchdog organization Govtrack, as of January 2014 Smith ranks fourth among all 435 Members of the House over the last two decades in the number of laws authored.

    He is the author of America’s three landmark anti-human trafficking laws including The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a comprehensive law designed to prevent modern-day slavery, protect victims, and enhance civil and criminal penalties against traffickers, as well as more than a dozen veterans health, education and homeless benefits laws, and laws to boost embassy security, promote democracy, religious freedom, and health care.

    Smith is the author of the $265 million Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 which established a nationwide program for ethical research and treatment using umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. That landmark law was reauthorized in September 2010 for another five years.
    In October 2011, Smith’s bill, HR 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) of 2011, was signed into law (Public Law PL112-32), a follow-up to his Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research, and Epidemiology Act (ASSURE) of 2000.

    A lifelong New Jerseyan, Congressman Smith graduated from The College of New Jersey with a degree in business administration. Prior to being elected to Congress, he helped run a small business– his family’s wholesale sporting goods corporation. He is also the former Executive Director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee.

    The congressman is married to his wife of 35 years, Marie, and they have four grown children.


    Serving With

    Frank LoBiondo

    NEW JERSEY's 2nd DISTRICT

    Jon Runyan

    NEW JERSEY's 3rd DISTRICT

    Scott Garrett

    NEW JERSEY's 5th DISTRICT

    Leonard Lance

    NEW JERSEY's 7th DISTRICT

    Rodney Frelinghuysen

    NEW JERSEY's 11th DISTRICT

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