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Refugee Protection in the US: Time to Renew Our Commitment




A refugee is a person forced to flee his or her country who cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on that individual's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. There are approximately 15.2 million refugees[1] in the world today, many living temporarily in camps or urban settings. The largest groups of refugees include Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese, Colombians, and Sudanese[2]. Most have sought refuge in the developing world, in countries whose resources are already stretched thin providing for their own populations.

Three "durable solutions" are sought for refugees: they can return home voluntarily when conditions permit, remain permanently in the country of first asylum if that country allows, or resettle in a third country. Only a small percentage of refugees - less than one percent - are resettled to third countries.This durable solution is reserved for those who would be at risk of losing their lives upon return to their countries of origin, and who are not able to integrate into their countries of first asylum.



Support for refugees in the United States is funded from the Department of State's Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, and from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The MRA account helps the United States meet its domestic and international obligations to protect and assist refugees overseas and, in the case of those being resettled, upon arrival to the United States. ORR's mission is to assist refugees, once resettled, along with trafficking victims, asylum seekers, Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants, and other entrants, in obtaining economic and social self-sufficiency in the United States.

Levels of funding for these accounts have fallen far behind the need in recent years.  The Match Grant program, for example, is highly effective at facilitating early refugee self-sufficiency, but is also regularly unable to meet the demand for enrollment due to a lack of available slots for participants.This program regularly leverages $1 of private resources for every $2 of federal funding to help with intensive job development, employment services, and case management, and was nominated recently by ORR as a model for alternatives to welfare aimed at early self sufficiency through employment.However, this program is regularly unable to serve qualified applicants about two-thirds of the way through the year due to a lack of funding.

It is not only the Match Grant program which sorely needs more funding.ORR's Social Services and Preventative Health budget lines have remained stagnant for 20 years, while the refugee population in the United States has grown increasingly diverse.At the same time, greater numbers of refugees with serious medical and mental health needs are being resettled. Additional funding is also needed for Emergency Housing Assistancein orderto help refugees avoid homelessness. For highly skilled refugees, an allocation of additional funds to Targeted Assistance for training, accreditation assistance, language acquisition, and job placement would enable them to contribute their considerable talents to society as quickly as possible.


The United States has historically welcomed refugees, and continues to resettle more refugees than any other country in the world.However, after the terrorist attacks of 2001, refugee admissions to the United States fell dramatically.While admissions have recently returned to pre-9/11 levels, they are still well below the historic average.Meanwhile, the need for resettlement is growing.According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 800,000 of the world's refugees are currently in need of resettlement to a safe third country[3].The UNHCR recently called on resettlement countries to increase their admissions by ten percent.In order to bring U.S. resettlement numbers back up to historic levels and address a fraction of the global need, the United States must set a respectable goal for refugee admissions.We recommend that 80,000 refugees be admitted in Fiscal Year 2012.

Structural Reform

Since the inception of the U.S Refugee Program in 1980, the population it serves has greatly diversified and now includes far greater numbers of highly vulnerable individuals.However, the program has remained virtually unchanged, and funding has stagnated.Victims of trafficking and torture, for example, need more than just cash assistance – they need dedicated staff people who can help them navigate their situation.We recommend the creation by ORR of a case management system, which would enable these vulnerable individuals, such as disabled or elderly refugees, to integrate more successfully into their communities.

In 2008, P-3 (family reunification) processing out of East Africa was suspended following concerns that there were high levels of fraud in the program.  While we agree that it is important to protect the U.S. Refugee Program from fraud, many of these cases included families raising orphaned or abandoned children, and individuals who did not report for their interviews were also counted as fraudulent applicants.The suspension of the P-3 program has had devastating effects on African refugees in the United States seeking to reunite with their relatives.  In September of 2010, the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) published proposed rules that would change its procedures for processing P-3 applicants, including mandatory DNA testing to prove claimed family relationships.While we welcome the imminent return of P-3 processing out of Africa, we are troubled by the fact that the anchor must pay for the testing even if it is unsuccessful, and that the results of the tests will not be kept confidential from other family members. Refugee women are often victims of sexual violence, and these women and their children may face ostracism by their family if the anchor becomes aware of the situation through the DNA results. 

Dramatically increased security measures put into place since September 11, 2001, while important and necessary, now often lead to considerable processing delays, causing families to remain separated and keeping deserving refugees from receiving protection. There is a need for improved coordination between overseas actors and domestic resettlement agencies, especially when there are unanticipated mass arrivals of refugees. The administration of this increasingly complex program needs to be streamlined and modernized so that it more effectively responds to the realities of today's refugee flows.

In order to correct some of these problems, MRS/USCCB suggests better planning on the part of the State Department, increasing flexibility of funds so that they can be adapted to meet changing needs, and greater cooperation between involved agencies (DOS, DHS, ORR, and the Voluntary Agencies).Additionally, we advocate for using non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with ties to domestic constituencies for overseas refugee processing, and for increasing the number of USCIS Refugee Officers in the field, therefore expediting interviews.In order to assist with this, we urge Congress to appropriate funding for the Refugee Corps, instead of utilizing the current system of reliance on fees paid by refugees for the processing of their applications.


MRS/USCCB recommends that:

·Congress appropriate enough money to admit 100,000 refugees while offering each eligible refugee basic services and programs that will enable them to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible;

·The president's annual determination of the refugee admissions target reflect global needs and the U.S.' historic commitment to refugee protection;

·The State Department take steps to ensure that the United States is offering admission to especially vulnerable populations of refugees;

·The Office of Refugee Resettlement create a case management system for refugees;

·The State Department immediately re-start family reunification while paying for refugees' DNA testing and ensuring the confidentiality of test results.All nationalities should be eligible for family reunification;

·The State Department engage in long-term planning and capacity-building with regard to refugee protection;

·The State Department utilize non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with ties to domestic constituencies for overseas refugee processing; and

·The State Department conduct meaningful consultations with the Senate and House Judiciary Committees as early as possible in each fiscal year so that admissions ceilings and funding decisions can be better coordinated.





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