Needed Reforms in the Refugee Program (2011)
Statement submitted to the Public Meeting on FY 2012 Refugee Admissions Program May 12, 2011
Special Projects Director
Federation for American Immigration Reform
This statement is submitted on behalf of the Federation for American Immigration Reform's more than a quarter million members and activists. FAIR is a national, non-profit public interest organization that works to end illegal immigration, restore moderate legal immigration and reform our immigration laws to bring them into accord with the national interest.
In November 2010, FAIR published a report entitled, "Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform." That report, is available on FAIR's website.
The report documents how refugee and asylum law and policy are overdue for reform. They have strayed far from the original and altruistic intent of offering protection to those who face a credible fear of persecution at the hands of their governments. The commitment to helping others in distress, that is understood and supported by the public, has been hijacked by interest groups seeking to advance their own narrow agendas and by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with government contracts to resettle refugees in the United States.
The report notes that as the flow of refugees from communist Europe countries and from Southeast Asia waned, the refugee resettlement agencies in the United States mounted a campaign to encourage the U.S. Department of State to seek out new sources of refugees. The State Department was quick to respond as evidenced by the Congressional testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Arthur Dewey on September 21, 2004.
"In last year's report to Congress  we acknowledged the [refugee] program was at a crossroads. We had two choices: limit the size and scope of our program, allowing the program to wane; or mount the most extensive and expensive rescue operation in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program. Of course we chose the latter."
Rather than opt for the more logical path of reducing refugee intake, the Department of State chose to undertake "extensive and expensive" efforts to find new sources of refugee populations to prop up the dwindling program. Thus, refugee resettlement became less a program designed to aid threatened persons, but one designed to perpetuate itself. Assistant Secretary Dewey's statement suggests that in the post-Cold War era the primary objective U.S. refugee resettlement is to serve the needs and interests of a network of NGOs.
Documentation of the lobbying by refugee resettlement organizations to find new sources of refugees appeared in an article by Heidi H. Boas in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, Spring, 2007.
"A coalition of refugee resettlement organizations in Washington, DC, known as the InterAction Commission on Migration and Refugee Affairs (CMRA), took select Congressional staff members on three separate trips to Africa during the late 1990′s. With Congressional Black Caucus members as leaders on both these Committees [Judiciary/John Conyers and International Relations/Mel Watt] during the mid-1990′s, the Caucus was ideally positioned to help refugee advocates push for their cause. The trips that CMRA organized helped bring Congressional Black Caucus members on board to support increased African refugee resettlement to the United States."
It is lobbying by voluntary organizations — most of which are church based — that drives the U.S. refugee admissions program rather than priorities established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or the objective conditions of refugees in need of permanent resettlement. This lobbying to artificially maintain a high level of admissions has the objective of perpetuating jobs for employees of the non-profit organizations.
The United States needs to condition its commitment to accept refugees who truly need permanent resettlement in order to leverage other countries to fairly share the burden of refugee admissions. At the same time, reform measures are needed to reallocate resources by narrowing refugee admissions to just those truly requiring permanent resettlement. A reduction in refugee intake would allow for adequate support for those resettled here and for those waiting in UN facilities for repatriation to their homeland.
Reforms should also be adopted because current abuses in those programs are undermining public support for our humanitarian efforts. The more that those programs are seen as a fraudulent backdoor route to permanent residence that result in Americans being required to support foreigners who should not be in our country, the greater will be a possible future backlash that could undermine support for those programs.
There will likely always be more refugees and asylees than can be accommodated. That necessitates a prioritization system at both the international and national levels to identify refugees most in need of permanent resettlement. That process in the United States should operate within a fixed ceiling of admissions — such as the 50,000 refugee ceiling recommended by the Jordan Commission. The practice of circumventing admission ceilings by creating waiting lists is an abrogation of the responsibility for prioritizing and has the pernicious effect of simply creating pressure to raise the ceiling.
FAIR's other recommended reforms from the report are included below:
- Group status, e.g., the Lautenberg Amendment, opens the door to fraud and to unverifiable claims of participation in such a group and should be ended.
- In-country processing of applicants for refugee status is similarly a distortion of true refugee status because their presence in the country demonstrates that they are not subject to government persecution of a nature that generates the need for refugee protection. It also siphons off dissidents who may become agents for governmental change. The refugee screening programs in Russia, Vietnam and Cuba should be permanently shut down.
- The UNHCR has a long track record and expertise in addressing refugee problems, with the United States exerting major influence in the development of its policies. Accordingly, the United States should harmonize its refugee intake more with UNHCR priorities for populations needing permanent resettlement, and, in the process, insist on a more equitable burden sharing within the international community. This would entail a reduction in refugee admissions and a greater emphasis on temporary protection.
- The family reunification provisions of U.S. refugee admissions policy should apply only to the immediate family (spouse and minor children) of the principal refugee. This is not to exclude adult children and other extended family members, but to require that they must establish in their own right their eligibility to be recognized as refugees.
- Persons accepted for refugee resettlement in the United States on the basis of being an immediate family member of a preceding refugee should be required to substantiate that family relationship including by genetic testing where fraud in such claims has been found.