Legislation to protect refugees may not be the first thing that comes to mind in these days of debate over immigration reform, but I know that many of our friends are hearing questions about these vulnerable migrants.
I wanted to take a moment to sum up some of the most important information about the U.S. refugee resettlement program, including legislation in place and in the works.
Editor’s note: Please read “Update on Legislation Protecting Refugees” for current information on laws affecting refugees in the United States.
Refugees are people who have fled their countries of origin to escape persecution. The Refugee Act of 1980 created the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program to provide for the effective resettlement of refugees and to help them to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible after arrival in the United States. Title IV, chapter 2 of the Immigration and Nationality Act contains the provisions of the Refugee Act. You can read the details here.
In fiscal year 2012, the U.S. government admitted 58,236 refugees to the country. LIRS was privileged to welcome over 8,700 of those refugees, working with them to establish new lives in American communities.
Over the last three decades, refugee populations arriving to the United States have changed significantly. In the early 1980’s, the majority of refugees admitted to the United States were fleeing conflicts in Southeast Asia. Today, the refugee population is more diverse and vulnerable, with over 80 nationalities represented in FY 2012. The U.S refugee resettlement program has not been significantly reformed since it was created more than three decades ago. Our outdated system:
- Is chronically underfunded. While private support plays an important role in the reception and integration of refugees, federal resources are critical to ensure refugees receive essential services.
- Serves many refugees who are able to find jobs and integrate quickly while others require more assistance and services.
- Needs improved coordination and a holistic understanding of the refugee program for appropriations and domestic planning purposes
LIRS advocates for a flexible resettlement program that meets the needs of refugees in the 21st century. Resettlement reform will help refugees successfully integrate into modern society and should adhere to these principles:
- Throughout the different stages of refugee resettlement—protection, stabilization and integration—community engagement is critical.
- Family unity and family reunification are basic human rights and are essential for long-term integration.
- Federally funded programs should be outcome-driven, with basic standards and the flexibility to be responsive to the diverse strengths and needs of refugees arriving today.
- Federal agencies should improve coordination to capitalize better on the strengths of the various federal and non-federal actors to limit duplication of effort and maximize impact.
Legislation in the Works
S. 744, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill includes provisions affecting refugee resettlement. After considering many amendments to the bill, including amendments related to refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable migrants, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill in a bipartisan vote on May 21. The bill now heads to further debate and amendments on the Senate floor beginning in early June.
The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act addresses many of the problems facing the refugee resettlement system in the United States. LIRS welcomes this legislation as it provides increased protections and services to all categories of refugees, including expanding case management services and increasing funding for integration grants.
The Refugee Protection Act of 2013 would ensure refugees receive adequate assistance when they arrive in the United States. LIRS welcomes the introduction of this bill as it seeks to update the U.S. refugee resettlement program, and reunite refugee children who have lost their parents with family and other loved ones.
For more information, please check out LIRS Refugee Resettlement.
I hope these resources are useful. Thanks for standing with immigrants and refugees!