Refugees are people who have fled their countries of origin to escape persecution. In fiscal year 2013, the U.S. government admitted 69,926 refugees to the country. LIRS was privileged to welcome over 9,700 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 60 nationalities represented in FY 2013. While the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was initially established to serve resettled refugees and asylees, Congress has expanded its mandate to serve Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa recipients who served alongside U.S. missions abroad, survivors of torture and human trafficking and Cuban-Haitian entrants while also ensuring the safety of children. The U.S refugee resettlement program has not kept up pace with their evolving mandate and changing refugee trends and has lacked any significant reform since it was created more than three decades ago. Our outdated system:
- Is chronically underfunded. ORR has been forced to reprogram some of its funds to assist in resettling refugees and meet its expanding mandate. While private support plays an important role in the reception and integration of refugees, federal resources are critical to ensure all migrants 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
The Office of Refugee Resettlement
The Office of Refugee Resettlement falls under the Administration for Children and Families operating division of the Department of Health and Human Services. ORR provides critical services for refugees, asylees, unaccompanied children, Iraqis and Afghans who received a Special Immigrant Visa for assisting the U.S. armed forces, Cuban-Haitian entrants, and other vulnerable migrants, including victims of abuse and trafficking. Since 2012, ORR has served an increasing number of children seeking refuge in the United States. In Fiscal Year 2014, due to a lack of funding, ORR was forced to reprogram funds for programs serving resettled refugees to care for to children arriving from Central America alone. As a nation that has historically stood for migrants in need of protection, we should honor our history by ensuring appropriate and flexible funding to welcome with compassion all vulnerable migrants.
LIRS advocates for a flexible resettlement program and robust funding that meet the needs of all vulnerable migrants eligible for service. Modernizing the refugee resettlement program and providing adequate funding to the resettlement process 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.
The House Emergency Supplemental Funding Bill (H.R. 5230), introduced in the 113th Congress to address the increase of children and families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking refuge in the United States passed the House of Representatives in August, 2014. The bill severely underfunds ORR, expands detention for children and families and contains harmful policy riders that strip trafficking protections for vulnerable mothers and children.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) passed the Senate in June, 2013. The Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill increases efficiency, justice and transparency in the refugee resettlement system and strengthens refugee family unity.
The Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act of 2013 (H.R. 6460), introduced in the 113th Congress, addresses many of the problems facing the refugee resettlement system in the U.S. 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 (S. 645), introduced in the 113th Congress, 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.
- LIRS July 30, 2014 statement opposing the House Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill
- LIRS July 24, 2014 statement welcoming funding for Refugees and Children Seeking Refuge
- Overview of S. 744 provisions related to refugees and other vulnerable migrants
- FAQ’s about refugees and the resettlement process
- Backgrounder on LIRS’s work to welcome refugees
- Toolkit for refugee advocacy with elected officials
- Statement on the introduction of the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act
- Statement on the introduction of the Refugee Protection Act
How You Can Help
- Join the Stand for Welcome Campaign to stay updated on advocacy with refugees and migrants.
- Visit the Action Center to send messages to elected officials supporting policies to welcome and protect refugees.
- Post and share the LIRS Refugee Mythbuster in your congregation and community.
- Volunteer with a resettlement agency in your town.
- Learn more by reading “The Real Cost of Welcome: A Financial Analysis of Refugee Reception,” an LIRS report that brought about an increase in the grant each refugee receives upon arrival to the United States.