RCUSA Transition Document for the New Administration

November 18, 2016

Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), a coalition of 22 leading organizations dedicated to refugee protection, welcome and excellence in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to continue to welcome refugees to the United States each year.

Welcoming refugees shines a light on Americans’ most cherished common values. The tens of thousands of volunteers, members of community groups and religious congregations that support and engage in welcoming refugees come from across the political spectrum. Most support refugees due to deeply-held religious, moral or ethical convictions. The U.S. resettlement program indeed has its historical underpinnings in the actions of faith communities. Churches, synagogues and other communities of faith continue to stand in partnership to help refugees of all faiths find safety and hope as they start their lives as new Americans. Refugee resettlement is the living embodiment of the religious commitment to “welcome the stranger,” a bedrock upon which much of America’s strength rests.

This strong partnership has also historically extended to bi-partisan Congressional backing, as well as support from both Democratic and Republican administrations. For example, under the Reagan Administration, the United States welcomed refugees who supported U.S. troops in Vietnam and Laos, and it was under Republican administrations that we opened our doors to those fleeing communism in the former Soviet Union and Cuba. In fact, since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, the two years which saw the highest numbers of refugees welcomed to the U.S. were under Republican administrations: President Reagan’s Administration welcomed almost 160,000 refugees in FY 1981, while President Bush’s Administration welcomed more than 132,000 refugees in 1992. The United States now continues this proud tradition by welcoming refugees from more than 60 countries around the world, including Iraqi and Afghan individuals who worked with U.S. forces and risked their lives to protect Americans, as well as those who are seeking safety after fleeing from ISIS and the instability and horrors they have inflicted upon innocent civilians.

This history of bi-partisan support is one recognition that the USRAP is not just about offering the opportunity for refugees to live in freedom in welcoming communities around the country. It is also a key component of our foreign policy and national security priorities. The U.S. refugee resettlement program makes America safer and stronger by helping to stabilize countries and regions faced with large-scale forced displacement spilling into their territories. Strategic investments in refugee resettlement and targeted humanitarian support help to bolster key allies, such as Jordan and Turkey, by increasing regional stability as they work hand-in-hand with the United States to defeat forces that wish to cause harm to the United States and the principles that we hold dear. Continuing to welcome refugees from around the world sends a strong message to groups that want to sow havoc and fear that the United States remains a leading force for stability and liberty in the world.

This document provides details about the USRAP and how it operates. For more examples that highlight the secure nature of the program, how resettlement makes the U.S. safer, and the deep faith support for the program, please also refer to these additional included resources:

  • Statement of Principles on America’s Commitment to Refugees from Former National Security Officials
  • Department of Homeland Security Refugee Processing and Security Screening Fact Sheet
  • Department of Homeland Security USRAP Flow Chart
  • Letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table in support of refugee resettlement
  • Letter from more than 1,000 rabbis calling on elected leadership to support refugee resettlement

Who is a Refugee

Under U.S. law, a refugee is a person forced to seek protection outside his or her own country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or their political opinion. At the end of 2015 there were 21.3 million refugees around the world and an estimated 44 million people who were forced to flee their homes, but have not crossed an international border.

The U.S. codified its participation in national and international refugee protection systems when it enacted the Refugee Act of 1980. The Refugee Act established the statutory basis for much of current U.S. refugee law that provides for the admission and resettlement of the small number of the world’s refugees who the United States resettles each year.

The History of U.S. Assistance to Refugees

The United States has a long history of providing protection and assistance to persons facing persecution and fleeing violence. In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. led the humanitarian assistance and reconstruction effort to help displaced persons, including resettling to the U.S. hundreds of thousands of Europeans displaced from the war, including Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. expanded its commitment to protect vulnerable and displaced persons by funding programs such as those that helped victims of gender based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, provided educational opportunities for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, and helped hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees to return home. The U.S. also airlifted thousands of Kosovar refugees to safety in the late 1990s. In recent years, the U.S. has resettled Darfuri refugees fleeing genocide and violence, refugees from Myanmar forced out of their country by ethnic and religious persecution, Iraqi and Afghan refugees who served the U.S. military and government, and many other populations in need of lifesaving protection.

The U.S. Offers Protection and Assistance for Refugees in Three Essential Ways:

Overseas Assistance: The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) administers the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) accounts. Through these channels, the U.S. can provide life-saving assistance and protection to refugees in both camp and urban settings and can provide stabilizing support to refugee host countries that are often key strategic partners of the United States. The U.S. also provides humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs). Funding for IDP programs is mainly facilitated through the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Refugee Resettlement: Every year, the President, working through the U.S. Department of State, assesses the global projected resettlement needs for refugees and then consults with Congress to determine the number of refugees from each region around the world that will be resettled to the U.S. in the coming fiscal year. This assessment and consultation results in the issuance prior to the beginning of the new fiscal year of a Presidential Determination on the number of refugees to be admitted in the year, which serves as a target for refugee admissions to the United States. Refugees identified for resettlement to the U.S. are the most vulnerable, including survivors of torture, women-at-risk, children-at-risk, and targeted religious minorities. While the U.S. welcomed 85,000 refugees in FY 2016, of the millions of refugees around the world, those resettled globally constitute less than one percent each year of the total number of refugees.

Asylum: While refugees are processed and admitted to the U.S. from abroad, a separate process is included within the Immigration and Nationality Act (IN
A), as amended by the Refugee Act, for the granting of asylum on a case-by-case basis to those physically present in the U.S. or at a land border or port of entry and who otherwise meet the definition of a refugee. Asylum seekers are interviewed by trained asylum officers or immigration judges to determine if they meet the refugee definition and are admissible to the United States. Individuals that meet all criteria are afforded asylum and provided access to refugee services and may apply for lawful permanent residency after one year. In FY 2014, the U.S. granted asylum to 23,533 individuals seeking protection.

How the U.S. Resettlement Program Works

The United States decides which refugees to resettle within our borders. The State Department oversees the admission of each refugee to the U.S. after they have been granted refugee status following individual interviews by Department of Homeland Security DHS officials, have passed extensive inter-agency security background checks with multiple national security and intelligence agencies, and have passed health screenings.

Refugee Selection and Security Screening Process: According to national security experts, refugees are the most thoroughly vetted, rigorously screened people to come to the United States. Security screenings involve the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Center, and multiple intelligence agencies. Department of Homeland Security officials interview each refugee to determine whether they meet the refugee definition and whether they are admissible to the United States. Refugees undergo a series of biometric and investigatory background checks, including collection and analysis of personal data, fingerprints, photographs, and other background information, all of which is checked against forensic testing, government databases and other extensive information gathered by U.S government agencies. The entire process typically takes 18-24 months, and sometimes longer, before a refugee even steps foot on U.S. soil. Once they arrive in the U.S. they are still subjected to additional screening by Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry.

Services to refugees in the U.S.: Among the many reasons that the USRAP is successful is because it is a public-private model. Direct services are provided by a nation-wide network of community-based organizations that are affiliated with nine, national non-governmental resettlement agencies, six of which are faith-based. The resettlement agencies also utilize and help coordinate tremendous support from volunteers, faith groups, small and large businesses, non-profit agencies, community donors, and more in their local communities. These agencies enter into cooperative agreements with the U.S. State Department to provide refugees initial services in carefully selected communities, and agencies convene regular meetings with community stakeholders to discuss upcoming arrivals and service provision. Initial services include locating and setting up housing, airport pickup, orientation to the community, facilitation of health screenings and follow-up, enrollment of children in school, enrollment in limited public services, and support in finding employment and English language programs.

Services to resettled refugees are designed to help them adjust to their new communities and achieve self-sufficiency and are funded by the Refugee and Entrant Assistance (REA) account which funds the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services. Refugees receive limited cash assistance through various programs. The main objective of these programs is for refugees to obtain self-sufficiency in a short period of time and foster their ability to contribute to their new communities and begin to feel integrated into American society and culture. ORR also provides funding to state governments, local educational entities and non-profit organizations to support communities that welcome refugees. Research shows that refugee resettlement economically revitalizes communities, creates jobs, and fosters purchasing power – a few of the reasons why it is so strongly supported by the private sector. Resettlement not only saves lives, but it uniquely aligns with American identify and values, benefits our national security and foreign policy, and provides benefits to American communities and economy.

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