Congressional Democrats are increasingly referring to those crossing in the border surge as “refugees,” who would have a different standing under U.S. and international law than those seeking legal status through asylum or other means. This shift in language is meant to conjure up public sympathy for displaced persons, and to infer that the United States has a legal obligation to accept the coming illegal aliens. Democrats may score political points under this strategy but should not gain the illegal aliens admission as refugees since current U.S. law and policy limits refugees to those currently residing outside of the U.S.
“Let’s be clear: This is not an immigration crisis,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said last week. “This is a humanitarian and refugee crisis. It’s being caused in large measure by thousands in Central America who believe it is better to run for their lives and risk dying, than stay and die for sure….The bottom line is that we must attack this problem from a foreign policy perspective, a humanitarian perspective, a criminal perspective, immigration perspective, and a national security perspective.”
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., cited a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the surge of children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and said, “The number one reason these kids are leaving their homes is to escape endemic violence, including extortion, killings, and forced recruitment into street gangs.”
Under U.S. law, the term refugee refers to a person who is located outside of the United States, is of “special humanitarian concern to the United States” and has demonstrated that they were persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion in their country of origin. A total of 73,293 people were admitted to the United States as refugees during 2010, the latest year for which data are available, while 21,113 individuals were granted asylum.
Most who come to the United States as refugees are referred through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The United States has a legal obligation under Article 33 of the U.N. Refugee Convention, to which it is a party, to accept a certain number of refugees each year.
Earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees surveyed 404 children from Mexico and Central America who crossed the border illegally and asked why they left their country. The report found "that no less than 58 percent of the 404 children interviewed were forcibly displaced" to a degree that warranted international protection, meaning that if the U.S. refused these children, it could be in breach of U.N. conventions.
The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) handles referrals from the Commissioner and a limited number of other applications through embassies. The applicants are interviewed abroad and, if approved, becomes eligible for services through the Department of Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). That’s the same office currently caring for unaccompanied alien children. But in the case of a qualified refugee, ORR and the Department of State place people in locations around the United States,
ORR’s placement of refugees has generated significant public opposition in the past. In a recent case, the mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts called for an end to refugee resettlement in his city, saying the families placed there are straining services.
Cities like Springfield receive about $1,800 per person in federal funding to assist refugees for as long as eight months, but Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says that is not enough time for some refugees to adjust. "I have enough urban issues to deal with. Enough is enough," Sarno said. "You can't keep concentrating poverty on top of poverty." One-third of his city’s population lives below the poverty line.
The refugee program in the United States has been subject to substantial fraud. At a February 2014 hearing, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security released a document produced by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services entitled "Asylum Benefit Fraud and Compliance Report". It found that just 30% of asylum cases surveyed were fraud-free -- in other words, 70% bore some indication of fraud.
Updated: Tue, Jul 8th 2014 @ 1:10pm EDT