Reform of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
The U.S. Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Program is antiquated and in need of urgent reform. It has been thirty years since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. This law was drafted in the context of the large scale resettlement of refugees from South East Asia, a relatively homogenous group. Today the program admits individuals and groups from every region of the world and includes torture survivors, unaccompanied minor children, and victims of sexual and gender based violence. Some refugees have lived in camps for decades and others have been deprived of basic human rights, including the freedom of movement.
Moreover, the socio-economic realities of the U.S. have also changed dramatically over the last thirty years. The welfare system has been drastically scaled back, leaving almost no social safety net for newly arrived refugees unable to find work. These changes are exacerbated by the recent and ongoing economic downturn which has made daily life difficult for many Americans. Unlike many Americans, however, refugees are newcomers and have not had time to build the social networks necessary that can help insulate families from tough economic times. That is why it is important that refugees receive adequate support upon arrival so that they have the tools they need to succeed.
When given a basic foundation from which to rebuild their lives, refugees have become successful entrepreneurs, engines of economic growth, and harvesters of fallow land. All of this and more is possible when refugees are given basic tools to begin anew. It is past time to modernize the antiquated architecture of the refugee program by ensuring fair access to the program, strong oversight, smooth and even flow of arrivals, rapid response to acute and volatile situations, continuity between pre and post arrival services, family unity, and an elevated and more prominent role for ORR.
To learn more, see reports about the U.S. refugee resettlement program:
Refugee Resettlement in the United States: An Examination of Challenges and Proposed Solutions, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
Impact of the Recession on Refugee Resettlement, Church World Service
The Real Cost of Welcome: A Financial Analysis of Local Refugee Reception, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Photo credits: (Top) David Snyder/CRS; (Bottom) EMM