United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)
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The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is a consortium of federal agencies and nonprofit organizations working together[when?][vague], both overseas and domestically, to identify and admit qualified refugees for resettlement into the United States. As a program, USRAP is tasked with some of the humanitarian efforts that the United States chooses to undertake. Every year, thousands of refugees are welcomed into the United States and given the opportunity to build a better life for themselves. In this way, USRAP demonstrates the commitment of a people to humanitarian principles.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) claims that USRAP's mission is "to offer resettlement opportunities to persons overseas who are of special humanitarian concern, while protecting national security and combating fraud."
The goals of USRAP are as follows:
- Arranging refugees' placement by ensuring that approved refugees are sponsored and offered appropriate assistance upon arrival in the U.S.
- Providing refugees with basic necessities and core services during their initial resettlement period in the U.S.
- Promoting refugee self-sufficiency through employment as soon as possible after arrival in the U.S. in coordination with other refugee service and assistance programs.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. refugee resettlement program is based on the United States’ aspirations, which are compassion, generosity, and leadership and since 1975, over 3 million refugees from all over the world have been welcomed to the United States.
In response to the growing crisis in Europe posed by the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, private citizens took responsibility for the first refugee resettlement undertaken by the United States. Groups of concerned citizens worked to assist political, intellectual, cultural and scientific leaders who had fled the increasing repressive Fascist governments in Germany, Italy and Spain. Among those rescued in that initial group of refugees were the political scientist Hannah Arendt, the painter Marc Chagall, the novelist Franz Werfel, the philosopher Alfredo Mendizabal, the medical scientist Fritz Kahn, the sculptor Jacques Lipschitz, the historian Golo Mann, and the Nobel Prize–winning biochemist Otto Meyerhoff. Early actors in assisting refugees were the International Rescue Committee, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and Church World Service (CWS) who assisted thousands of refugees resettle in cities throughout the United States before the end of 1946. In the early stage of refugee resettlement in the U.S., faith communities in the United States played a significant role in protecting refugees and in helping them resettle. These faith-based organizations focused on resettling refugees during World War II and immediately thereafter. (Note: this was before the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and long before the U.S. ratified the 1967 Protocol.):590
World War II through the Indo-Chinese Refugee CrisesEdit
The U.S. government authorized refugee admissions on an ad hoc basis, designating specific populations for entry through "erratic and unpredictable authorizations.":589 The approach toward federal funding of refugee resettlement was similarly ad hoc. Generally speaking, the resettlement agencies provided the vast majority of the resources needed to support refugee.:589 The Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the first refugee legislation enacted by U.S. Congress, provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans. Previous to this Act, 250,000 displaced Europeans had already been admitted to the U.S. After the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, refugee admission laws evolved to accept people fleeing from communist regimes such as Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, North Korea, China, and Cuba. The refugees were usually supported by private (both ethnic, religious and secular) organizations, which formed the basis for the public/private role of U.S. refugee resettlement today. Notable resettlement efforts include the admission of 35,000 Hungarians who fled the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Resettlement activities were coordinated by a civilian Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief under the chairmanship of Mr. Tracey F. Voorhees. This Committee has coordinated all activities in connection with what was termed "Operation Mercy." In the process it utilized the services of more than 20 volunteer and governmental agencies.
After the fall of Vietnam in April 1975, the U.S. faced the challenge of resettling hundreds of thousands of displaced Indochinese refugees. They established an Indochinese refugee task force to respond to this crisis. After this situation, Congress realized it needed to create procedures that would deal with the ongoing resettlement of refugees and therefore passed the Refugee Act of 1980. Since 1975, over three million refugees have been resettled in the U.S., with annual admissions figures ranging from a high of 207,000 in 1980 to a low of 27,110 in 2002. The average number admitted annually since 1980 is 98,000.
Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized the resettlement services of all refugees in the U.S. This act incorporates the definition of "refugee" used in the UN Protocol, provides for a regular flow of admittants, and has a contingency for emergency admissions of refugees. It also authorizes federal assistance for the resettlement of refugees.
2011 to todayEdit
Today, USRAP comprises professional staffs from both religious and secular agencies working together in local communities. These groups both assist refugees with local integration and ensure that they have access to available services.:592
Each year the President of the United States—after consulting with Congress and the appropriate agencies—determines the designated nationalities and processing priorities for refugee resettlement for the upcoming year. As of 2011, USRAP sponsored over 56,000 refugees in the U.S. According to the Proposed Refugee Admissions for 2012, the U.S. has addressed refugees’ challenges after their arrival and has responded to their needs. As a part of these efforts, the National Security Staff (NSS) tried to recognize issues and find interagency solutions. This implementation resulted in a noticeable increase in the one-time per capita Reception and Placement Grant administered by the Department of State in FY 2010. In FY 2011, the Department of State/PRM and the Department of Health and Human Service/IRR developed more "timely information on refugee arrivals and can better manage their work" and will keep co-leading this effort.
On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769 (Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States) suspending the USRAP program for 120 days. On April 25, 2017, United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California William Orrick III ruled that Trump exceeded his presidential authority when he signed EO 13768 on January 25, 2017, directing his administration to withhold all federal funding from local jurisdictions deemed to be "sanctuary jurisdictions" including "sanctuary cities" by issuing a preliminary injunction. Judge Orrick subsequently issued a nationwide permanent injunction on November 20, 2017, declaring that section 9(a) of Executive Order 13768 was "unconstitutional on its face" and violates "the separation of powers doctrine and deprives [the plaintiffs] of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights." United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, refused on May 25, 2017 to reinstate the ban, citing religious discrimination. On June 1, 2017, the Trump administration appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for the cancellation of the preliminary injunctions and to allow the order to go into effect while the court looks at its ultimate legality later in the year. On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court partially lifted the halt and will hear oral arguments for the petition to vacate the injunctions in the fall.
On March 6, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13870 (Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States) which revoked EO 13769. Proclamation 9645 (Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats)of September 24, 2017, supplements EO 13780 of March 6, 2017. On October 17, 2017, Judge Derrick Watson, of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii issued another temporary restraining order that was asked by the state of Hawaii. Watson's decision noted that the latest ban “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor” as it “plainly discriminates based on nationality” and as such violates federal law and “the founding principles of this Nation.”
On October 24, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13815 (Resuming the United States Refugee Admissions Program with Enhanced Vetting Capabilities). On December 4, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that EO 13815 could go into full effect until the legal appeals are being weighed in the lower courts.
As was stated earlier, USRAP is not in the hands of any one particular agency of the federal government. Rather, it is a collaborative effort among many different agencies and departments of the federal government as well as a number of nonprofit organizations. According to the U.S. Department of State website, three entities make up the federal arm of the USRAP program: USCIS, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security; the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which is part of the Department of State; and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)Edit
USCIS is responsible for activities that could be termed the "legal side" of USRAP operations. For example, it processes applications for refugee admission to the United States and applications for permanent residency. It also issues documents that permit refugees to return to the United States after traveling abroad. Although USCIS is involved in humanitarian efforts by virtue of its inclusion in USRAP, the organization plays more of an incidental processing role than a humanitarian one.
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and MigrationEdit
As part of the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is primarily responsible for USRAP's operations abroad. According to the Bureau's website, its roughly 130 staff members perform primarily pass-through operations where they do not work directly with refugees. Rather, they work through other organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and other various intergovernmental organizations so as to provide services to refugees. The Bureau also processes applications for refugee resettlement to the United States.
Office of Refugee ResettlementEdit
Whereas the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration primarily handles the foreign-based portions of USRAP and USCIS works with admissions and legal issues, the Office of Refugee Resettlement "provide[s] new populations with the opportunity to maximize their potential in the United States."
The Office of Refugee Resettlement plays a particularly important role within USRAP. Bringing refugees into the United States and processing their documents is quite a different thing from assisting those same refugees in living and working in a new and foreign culture. This is the task of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Nonprofits play a special role in USRAP. There are ten nonprofits appointed to work with the nation in either refugee referrals or in refugee resettlement. The nine non-profits currently working with USRAP are listed below:
- International Organization for Migration
- Church World Service
- Episcopal Migration Ministries
- Ethiopian Community Development Council
- HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)
- International Rescue Committee
- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
- World Relief
These nine nonprofits have some 360 affiliated offices across the nation. Each nonprofit provides help for refugees to become self-sufficient after their arrival in the United States. Specifically, each nonprofit provides housing, food, clothing, enrollment in school, English language classes, employment, health screenings, and other public services. The following descriptions detail the unique contributions of two of the USRAP-involved nonprofits: the Church World Service and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Church World ServiceEdit
Church World Service works with eight different denominations, the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Along with the basic public services provided by every nonprofit, the Church World Service administers the Religious Services Program, a program which helps refugees continue to practice their religion in the U.S. (regardless of the individual refugee's specific religious practices).
HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) works within the Jewish Communal Network Commission to provide basic services to refugees. HIAS created the Refugee Family Enrichment program that addresses the problems a refugee family may face during resettlement. As part of their resettlement program through USRAP, HIAS teaches communication and conflict resolution skills that help families work through the difficulties of resettlement.
Budget and fundingEdit
During FY 2011, USRAP received $302 million from the federal government to fund its programs. That number will increase by over 25 percent (to $417 million) in FY 2012 and then drop back down to $310 million in FY 2013. According to the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, some of these monies are used to "[fund] ten public and private non-profit organizations to help provide initial services and assist refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible."
According to USRAP, "A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group." Once a refugee has fled their country into a neighboring country, there is a five-step process before they can be legally admitted into the United States of America. The process normally takes about eight months to a year. Once a refugee has been admitted to the United States, it is the responsibility of the sponsoring organization to help them adapt to their new life. It is the hope that they will be enfolded into their community and become an asset to the country.
As touched on above, much of the literature on USRAP challenges the efficacy of the program's cash assistance efforts. A recent study conducted by Columbia University argued that the programs failure to take individual circumstances into account when providing cash assistance has led to most of the problem:
... The notion that every refugee needs the same baseline services that has persisted since the inception of the refugee program aligns poorly with the goals of self-sufficiency and integration in the medium and long term. This is especially true given the diversity of the refugees arriving to the United States and the diversity of circumstances they face once here. Refugees have little agency over what services they can access, and even volags [local programs] have minimal room to account for refugees’ individual profiles when deciding what services to offer. Instead ... quick placement in employment is emphasized across the board, access to supplementary services and community support is determined essentially by lottery, and secondary migration is not accounted for.:11
This same article goes on to point out the varying degree of assistance from state-to-state creates a random allocation of assistance for refugees. Depending on their location, some refugees are given transportation assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) support, and local community assistance as well while other refugees are given the bare minimum of federal funding. This inequitable allocation leads to the successful integration of some refugees while others are left behind.:11
The purpose of cash assistance is to help refugees find employment. This goal, however, is frequently not achieved. "…The cash assistance received was not enough to cover basic expenses and often ran out long before employment was secured.":20 One of the main issues with refugee employment is that there is simply not enough time or money to support a thorough job search. The time allotted for support is eight months, however, the paper quoted above claimed that in reality the support lasts six months or less. This lack of time and funding results in a push for quick, insufficient employment rather than full, sustaining careers.
Refugees are pushed toward short-term jobs, simply to get them employed. This ignores individual refugees abilities, past education, and professional experience. The reason behind this push is that the goal is not that of long-term self-sustainability, but rather of self-sustainability by the end of the "eight"-month refugee assistance.:25 The result is that the program turns into a machine bent on churning out integrated refugees. This method is inefficient because more refugees must then rely on the government over the long-term through welfare programs.
These short-term jobs have above minimum wage pay, but the average wage per hour for full-time workers obtained by refugees within four months of arrival was $8.67 in 2009.:24 This rate is insufficient for refugees who provide for their families. Many face eviction and eventual unemployment.:12 This quick employment issue greatly affects the refugees’ ability to be self-sustaining.":20 In fiscal year 2007, ORR’s performance data show that between 59 percent and 65 percent of all refugees receiving cash assistance from ORR’s four assistance programs entered employment within 4 to 8 months of coming to the United States. There are mechanisms in place to allow for refugees to transfer their professional degrees; however, these transfers require recertification that costs as much as $1,000.:24
If a refugee cannot speak English, their job possibilities decrease. "The ability to speak English can greatly facilitate a refugee’s chances of finding employment.":27 USRAP does provide English language classes. There is, however, a wide array of problems with these classes: inadequate facilities, no longevity, poor teacher quality, and lack of transportation to classes.:27
Because of these issues, most refugees are not getting the English language training they need to achieve self-sustainability. The literature focused mainly on the problems with facilities and transportation.
According to Table 2, 58 percent of the incoming refugees could not speak English. This indicates that there is a great need for English language training among the refugees.
Because of the large percentage of refugees that need English classes, facilities are not expansive enough to cover the need.:20–21 As stated above, another barrier to English acquisition is the lack of transport to classes. Because refugees do not have a way to get to the classes, they do not go to the classes and thus they do not learn English.:23 "Limited funding means training provision typically stops at English language training during the early resettlement period".:13 This correlates directly with the refugee's ability to obtain employment. Approximately 90 percent of refugees who were living on government welfare programs did not speak English.:27
In addition to employment assistance, USRAP is also responsible for the health, both mental and physical, of refugees entering the United States. According to our bylaws, refugee resettlement agencies are "... authorized to fund social services projects designed to provide, where specific needs have been shown and recognized by the Director, health (including mental health) services, social services, educational and other services."
This responsibility becomes a problem when a high percentage of entering refugees have health issues. As the literature points out, this is a growing reality for the United States, "The number of refugees with chronic untreated medical and mental health conditions continues to grow. Needy refugees who do not qualify for Medicaid are limited to up to eight months of Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA).":20 There are reasons for why so many refugees suffer from poor mental and physical health:
Because the United States has admitted an increased number of refugees who have spent many years living in difficult conditions, such as refugee camps, a larger proportion of recently arrived refugees have health and other issues that make it difficult for them to work and achieve self-sufficiency. Because of these changes in refugee populations, [resettlement programs] faced difficulties in estimating the costs of serving newly arrived refugees, which, in turn, has affected the agency's unobligated balances.:2
Mental health issues are also on the rise because of the high number of Iraqi refugees being admitted to the United States. For whatever reason, Iraqi refugees have per capita higher instances of trauma and mental illness than other refugees.
As one article posited, this rise in mental illness among refugees calls for better training for psychologists in working with diverse populations: "The diversity of the refugee population in the United States requires practicing psychologists to respond by adapting clinical services to meet their mental health needs." Hopefully with better training, psychologists of refugees will be able to better address their specific health needs. USRAP has an obligation to improve health services for the incoming refugee population.
U.S. foreign policy issuesEdit
At times, United States foreign policy has had negative implications for the lives of the refugees USRAP aims to serve. Although official United States procedure states that foreign policy should have no impact on refugee admissions, this has not always been the case.:393 For example, on September 11, 2001, a number of Afghan refugees were scheduled to arrive in the United States. Not surprisingly, those plans did not move forward.:391 Particularly troubling are the patterns displayed early after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. During this period, the United States greatly reduced the number of refugees admitted from both of these locations. This course of action (as one writer claims) was likely used to portray that the conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq "[were] improving.":392–393
This use of refugee admissions programs to further national interests is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Legislation regarding refugee admissions written after World War II excluded large numbers of refugees (including ninety percent of Jewish refugees) from being eligible for resettlement in the United States.:395 This treatment was justified by some because of fears concerning the refugees’ possible impacts on the American economy.:395 During the Cold War, the United States used refugee admissions policy largely as a propaganda tool in an attempt to discredit communism by granting asylum to those seeking to escape communist nations.:395–396
However, the interplay between United States refugee admissions and foreign policy is not entirely one-sided. A 2012 USRAP report to Congress states that United States involvement in discussions and actions concerning refugee resettlement have given the United States the opportunity to advance human-rights as well as influence other countries to be more open to accepting refugees. The example given in the report is that of Bhutanese refugees. Because the United States offered resettlement, other countries demonstrated a greater willingness to accept refugees as well.
Local government issuesEdit
Along with its foreign policy problems, the literature points out that USRAP has had issues with its domestic policies as well. A report, Abandoned Upon Arrival: Implications for Refugees and Local Communities Burdened by a U.S. Resettlement System That is not Working, points out that local communities have confronted many challenges due to refugees resettlement. In the study, seven main findings were reported concerning the local resettlement communities.
First, the federal government uses "faith-based groups," for refugee placement.:8 The local communities that receive the refugees are not included in the decision-making process. Receiving new refugees into a community requires numerous resources from the local government, but these local governments are not given enough funding from the federal government. They are also not informed as to how many new refugees they are going to receive. This has been a heavy burden for the local governments.
Second, the refugees’ language barriers, caused by lack of adequate language instruction, prevent the refugees from communicating effectively concerning important issues such as health. USDHS conducted a study in 2008, showing that the better language skills refugees have, the better outcomes they obtain.
Third, the local school administrators are frustrated that the poor performance of the new refugee students negatively affects the school's reputation. These schools are also upset that the government does not provide additional funding to assist or improve this situation.
Fourth, regardless of each refugee's situation in regards to education, health, or psychological background, the government has applied a "one-size-fits-all assistance" approach.:9 This impedes the local governments’ ability to accommodate the refugees according to their needs, and to prepare or teach them in areas that they are weak.
Fifth, while the Federal Government has increased funding for refugees, this does not fix the current problems. The extra money only creates a delaying effect on "the incidence of poverty.":9
Sixth, insufficient funding after initial support for resettlement has created a difficult economic climate for the local communities. Also, the fundamental structure to support the refugee program has not been proven effective.
Seventh, the federal government has established an ineffective resettlement system that imposes burdens on local governments. The current resettlement system not only is a burden, but also inhibits services for other refugees who have already been resettled.
In order to help the cities and refugees with these problems, this study suggests seven strategies for improvement: (1) ensure the local leaders involvement in decision making processes, (2) provide better language courses, (3) establishing strategies in education, (4) remove "one-size-fits-all assistance", (5) improve accountability, (6) search for innovative models, and (7) promote community engagement.:4–6
Program fragmentation and lack of cohesion among different agencies produces challenges unnecessary burdens for those who are intended to benefit from the program.[how?]
Many of these problems associated with USRAP begin with a lack of information sharing between the agencies involved.:36 Much of the information gathered from refugees is not shared between agencies to ensure that the placement meets the needs of the refugee. For the most part, this information is only used to assess refugee admissibility into the resettlement program. At no point during the resettlement process does a government employee or contracted party have the responsibility to investigate and report "the presence of a needs-related vulnerability for the purposes of ensuring post-arrival assistance. Instead, such information is only gathered to help support the individual’s persecution claim.":38
Similarly, medical examinations and interviews of refugees performed by the USCIS overseas are not used to determine the health and resettlement needs of the refugee. Rather, this information is used to assess the admissibility of the refugee.:10 In fact, resettlement agencies must make placement decisions before they even receive the medical records of refugees.:10
One of the most crucial factors to the success of refugees is where they are placed in United States.:10 Even though the most vulnerable populations are being targeted for resettlement, these vulnerabilities are not being communicated to the placing agencies.:11 No structured system exists in USRAP for the collecting and distributing of refugee information for planning purposes.:41 This failure to share information down the resettlement chain hurts the resettled refugees and the success of USRAP.
Failure to coordinate/monitor refugeesEdit
Because critical information is not always considered when a placement decision is made, it is not surprising that many refugees leave the locations of original placement to look for better opportunities elsewhere. In many instances, refugees will seek out communities of fellow country-of-origin nationals.:16 Current legislation recognizes this secondary migration as a "natural and expected phenomenon.":16 However, there are no tools or tracking system in place to manage this phenomenon.:16 USRAP takes no measures in anticipating foreseeable trends in secondary migration by refugees.:35 When refugees move, they get lost in the system and their federal assistance money does not follow them. Consequently, these secondary migration refugees lose out on a part of their eight months of cash and medical treatment.:35 hi
The current literature offers many recommendations to improve the administration of USRAP. An information sharing mechanism could be instituted since none currently exists.:21 The PRM needs to expand the information it provides to placing agencies so that refugees have a better chance to be relocated in an area that will offer them the best possible care and services.:43 It has also been suggested that refugees be consulted on decisions that affect them so that services and placement can be tailored to their needs.:15
In addition, more than one article recommended that USRAP identify one lead agency to coordinate all the agencies and organizations involved in the program.:21:43 This agency could then monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the program and establish consistent policies and procedures in the resettlement process.:21 This renovated system should be flexible enough to account for secondary migration.:16 Refugees should not be penalized with a loss of federal assistance just because they exercise their right to relocate.:16
In the 2016 fiscal year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees from around the world. In 2017, the Trump Administration capped the number at 45,000, with the stated rationale of saving money. In 2018 it was announced by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States would cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at 30,000 for fiscal year 2019. On September 26, 2019, The Trump administration announced it plans to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, its lowest level since the modern program began in 1980. Since President Trump has not yet signed off on the FY 2020 cap, no refugees have been admitted since October 1, 2019. A moratorium on refugee flights extends through November 5, as of October 29.
In 2020, The Trump administration announces that it plans to slash refugee admissions to U.S. for 2021 to a record low, 15,000 refugees down from a cap of 18,000 for 2020. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining refugee admissions under the Trump term.
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- Jessica Eby; Erika Iverson; Jenifer Smyers; Erol Kekic (2011). "The faith community's role in refugee resettlement in the United States". Journal of Refugee Studies. 24 (3): 586–605. doi:10.1093/jrs/fer038.
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