The Case For Welcoming Refugees
In an increasingly polarizing political environment, we will continue to make the case for welcoming refugees into the U.S.
How do refugees get to the US?
There are two paths to becoming a refugee in the US. The first is through the refugee resettlement process and the second is through the asylum process.
Refugee Resettlement: Refugees who are resettled in the US most commonly live in refugee camps when they are selected to come to the US. The majority of people living in refugee camps intend and hope to go home once the conflict in their country was over. UNHCR selects candidates for resettlement whose lives would be in danger if they returned home, taking into account medical conditions, personal persecution, and quotas set by the US Congress. Those selected then move forward through a long chain of vetting through many US Homeland Security and State Department offices. This process can take up to two years. Once they arrive in the US, these refugees are supported by government-contracted NGOS such as the IRC or Catholic Charities. They receive free housing, and support with employment, education and integration.
Asylum Process: Asylum seekers arriving in the US have normally fled their home countries immediately after facing or fearing persecution. They enter the country either by air with various visas, or by land without a visa, in which case they are apprehended at the border. Those who flee by air with a visa tend to arrive alone (these visas are commonly given on an individual basis, and often flee in a hurry without much time to prepare). Asylum seekers must then apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the US. With the exception of special programs for Central American minors, the US government provides no support for asylum seekers until they are granted. This means no housing or survival support, as well as legal and social support. After submitting their application for asylum, refugees currently wait an average of 2-3 years before being called for their asylum interview. Asylum seekers can apply for a renewable work permit about 6 months after applying for asylum. At their interview, they must prove a “well founded fear of persecution” on the basis of one of five categories: race, religion, membership in a particular social group (sexuality, gender ect..), nationality or political opinion. They are then either granted asylum at the first asylum interview, if not granted right away, they must wait an additional 2-3 years for a court date where their case will be heard by an immigration judge. The right to seek asylum is part of international law since the 1951 Refugee Convention Treaty.
Are asylum seekers a threat to U.S security? What is RIF position’s on this issue?
The recent terrorists attacks on US and European soil have led many to question the safety of admitting refugees into the US. As a result, the Refugee Resettlement process, which historically garnered political consensus, has come under attack for being too lax in its vetting process (regardless of the fact that the US vetting process is the most intensive of its kind).
The government’s lack of support for asylum seekers, as opposed to resettled refugees, indicates a preference for vetting first, and providing refuge second. While we support a rigorous screening process, we firmly believe that the asylum process serves a critical purpose: it provides refuge to individuals who are in immediate harm, who are not in the position to be rescued by the refugee resettlement process. Asylum is meant for those who are personally targeted due to their identity, which means that they are not necessarily living in a war torn country where mass amounts of people are displaced into refugee camps. Asylum seekers are people who often become endangered very suddenly, by the results of an election or a sudden act of violence, so they do not have the ability to await assistance in their home country where there is no source of protection. Therefore, we believe that asylum seekers should receive more support upon being admitted into this country under the current convention. We are strongly in favor of registration centers that would screen incoming asylum seekers as we are of welcome centers that would guide newcomers through the process of seeking asylum (as RIF strives to do). These centers would help ensure that we know who is entering our country as early as possible. We also advocate for government-funded support for asylum seekers awaiting their decisions, so that like resettled refugees, asylum seekers can get back on their feet with a reasonable level of assistance.
The ultimate outcome of the oppositional stance taken by the government, as we have seen domestically with the influx of Central American minors, and globally as Syrians risk their lives to reach Europe, is dually faceted. On one side, refugees are unassisted and suffer irrecoverable hardship, and on the other side, security is impaired as asylum seekers are practically living in the shadows until their asylum interview. In other words, being unprepared and unwilling to confront the issue is dangerous to both sides of the equation.
At RIF, we strongly believe that it is impossible to hold back the tide of the desperate. Furthermore, we believe that these individuals deserve the support of any nation that can both afford to extend a hand, and also continues to be instrumental in the destabilization that forces people from their homes.