Needed Reforms in the Refugee Program (2012)
Statement submitted to the Public Meeting on FY 2013 Refugee Admissions Program May 1, 2012
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.
FAIR's analysis of the shortcomings of the current operation of the refugee resettlement program remain the same as stated in last year's meeting and as described in detail in our 2010 report "Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform."
Despite the drop in refugee arrivals in FY2011 to 56,419, this number remains above the 50,000 target ceiling recommended by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. The 80,000 admissions ceiling currently in effect should be scaled back to 50,000, and that should be treated as a true ceiling rather than a quota. A major step in this direction would be to stop admitting as refugees extended family members of persons previously admitted to the U.S. for resettlement.
FAIR calls of an end to the 'wet-foot dry-foot' policy that is based on executive discretion. Although the number of Cubans admitted as refugees last year also fell, it remains artificially inflated by that policy. The ending of the wet-foot dry-foot policy would go far towards ending the appearance of U.S. discrimination in favor of Cuban economic migrants over those from every other country in the world. The Cuban Adjustment Act is a vestige of the Cold War and its rescission is also long overdue.
FAIR also asks the Obama Administration to oppose any further extension of the Lautenberg Amendment. The inclusion of 1,572 refugee admissions in 2011 from the USSR (which has not existed since 1991) points to the continued lax refugee screening standards of the Lautenberg Amendment that replaces an analysis of an individual's claim of persecution with a simple statement of group identity.
The continued acceptance of refugees for U.S. resettlement who remain in their home country violates the distinction between refugees and displaced persons. The assumption must be that if they have not left their homeland they are not true refugees. While we must sympathize with dissidents who are persecuted by the power structure in their country, we also should work with the international community to protect them rather than to remove them as refugees.
Finally, the United States should no longer shoulder the burden of admitting a majority of the world's refugees. Our admissions program needs to be conditioned on the other countries of the world accepting a proportional responsibility.
FAIR's analysis of the current operation of the refugee resettlement program is developed more fully in the 2010 study cited above. The report documents how refugee and asylum law and policy 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 fear for their lives, a commitment 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 study 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."
Lobbying by private voluntary organizations — most of which are church-based — now drives the U.S. refugee admissions program rather than the objective criteria. The lobbying to maintain a high, artificial level of admissions has the objective of perpetuating jobs for employees of the non-profit organizations.
Reform measures are needed to reallocate resources to those truly requiring permanent resettlement. A reduction in refugee intake would allow for reallocation of resources in support for those resettled here and of 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 overall humanitarian efforts. The more that those programs are seen as a fraudulent backdoor route to permanent residence of foreign nationals who otherwise do not qualify for admission, the greater may be a possible future backlash that could undermine support for those programs.