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  1. We aren’t doing enough to help Syrian refugees, but how much more can we do? by Nolan Rappaport

    According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This includes approximately 21.3 million refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 18. On average, 24 people worldwide were displaced from their homes every minute of every day during 2015 – nearly 34,000 people per day. The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic accounted for more than half of the new refugees in 2015. There also were increases in refugees from Afghanistan, Burundi, and South Sudan.

    The United States is not doing as much as it can to deal with this crisis. Under INA Section 207, the maximum annual number of refugee admissions is set by the President, and although section 207 requires a congressional consultation, it does not require congressional approval.

    Sec. 207. [8 U.S.C. 1157] (a) (1) Except as provided in subsection (b), the number of refugees who may be admitted under this section in fiscal year 1980, 1981, or 1982, may not exceed .... (2) Except as provided in subsection (b), the number of refugees who may be admitted under this section in any fiscal year after fiscal year 1982 shall be such number as the President determines, before the beginning of the fiscal year and after appropriate consultation, is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest. ....

    (b) If the President determines, after appropriate consultation, that (1) an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists, (2) the admission of certain refugees in response to the emergency refugee situation is justified by grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest, and (3) the admission to the United States of these refugees cannot be accomplished under subsection (a), the President may fix a number of refugees to be admitted to the United States during the succeeding period (not to exceed twelve months) in response to the emergency refugee situation and such admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after the appropriate consultation provided under this subsection .

    For FY2016, the Obama Administration initially proposed a refugee ceiling of 75,000 and held consultations with Congress on that proposal. This included an allocation of 33,000 for the Near East/South Asia, the region that includes Syria. The Administration subsequently announced that it had decided to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016, which set the FY2016 refugee ceiling at 85,000. When asked if that increase was sufficient, Hillary Clinton said, “Now, look, we’re facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II. And I think the United States has to do more. And I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000...” But even 65,000 would be a small percentage of the total number of Syrian refugees, so it is difficult to predict how high she would want to go. As President of the United States, she would have unlimited authority to increase the ceiling on Syrian refugees. It is not clear, however, that a large increase would be in our best interests or in the best interests of the refugees.

    Although we could provide refuge to the entire population of Syrian refugees, our refugee program is not limited to providing refugees with a safe haven. According to Anna Crosslin, who has been honored as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugees, providing refugees with a safe haven in America is just the first step. We also must help them to thrive in the United States, not just to survive here, and self-sufficiency is an essential part of this. According to the following chart, which was prepared by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship, 91.4% of the Middle Eastern refugees accepted by the U.S. between 2008 and 2013, received food stamps and almost 68.3% received cash welfare.

    Another problem is that the information needed to perform reliable background investigations on Syrian refugees is not available. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Syria. Consequently, we do not have access to on-the-ground intelligence in Syria. This has been confirmed by government officials who would know of such sources. For instance, an FBI Assistant Director has said, “The concern in Syria is that we don’t have the systems in place on the ground to collect the information... All of the data sets, the police, the intel services that normally you would go and seek that information [from], don’t exist.” A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official has stated that the government does not have access to any database in Syria that can be used to check the backgrounds of incoming refugees against criminal and terrorist records. And National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen has explained that, “the intelligence picture we’ve had of this [Syrian] conflict zone isn’t what we’d like it to be... youcan only review [data] against what you have.”

    The Administration has responded to these concerns by establishing a more elaborate screening process which takes between 18 and 24 months to complete. Frankly, I do not know how additional time helps if the sources being checked do not have the needed information. Moreover, the Administration has cut the processing time back to three months to meet President Obama’s goal of bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees here this year.

    Published originally in Huffington Post.

    About The Author
    Nolan Rappaport
    was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive BranchImmigration Law Expert for three years; he subsequently served as the immigration counsel forthe Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims for four years. Prior to workingon the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for twentyyears. He also has been a policy advisor for the DHS Office of Information Sharing andCollaboration under a contract with TKC Communications, and he has been in private practice asan immigration lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson.

    Updated 10-24-2016 at 04:49 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

  2. Asylum claims of unaccompanied alien children contribute to backlog crisis in our immigration courts. By Nolan Rappaport

    The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 required screening unaccompanied alien for possible trafficking risks and asylum claims. When former President George W. Bush signed TVPRA into law on December 23, 2008, he observed that it was intended to enhance measures to combat human trafficking. It is very unlikely that anyone anticipated that it would be used to require asylum hearings for tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien children from Central America.

    The immigration courts always have had big backlogs, and the backlogs have continued to grow. The number of cases awaiting resolution before immigration judges as of the end of June 2016, reached a new high of 496,704, and 69,278 of these cases were for unaccompanied alien children. To put this in perspective, this was an average of 1,819 cases for each of the 273 immigration judges. It would take approximately 2.5 years to clear up this backlog even if there were no new cases being filed. But instead of giving priority to removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to our country, the Executive Office for Immigration Review hasprioritized the applications from the unaccompanied alien children.

    I respect the Administration’s efforts to help the children from Central America, but I do not think that the United States should assume sole responsibility for their welfare. In an article I wrote in July of 2014, I pointed out that their plight is an international problem and asserted that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should be involved in helping them. UNHCR was established on December 14, 1950, by the United Nations General Assembly. Its objective is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. UNHCR has helped tens of millions of people to restart their lives. When I wrote my article, UNHCR had a staff of some 7,685 people in more than 125 countries. They were helping 14.7 million internally displaced persons, 10.5 million refugees, 3.1 million returnees, 3.5 million stateless people, more than 837,000 asylum seekers, and more than 1.3 million other persons of concern.

    Moreover, UNHCR had developed a Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration 10-Point Plan of Action which addressed the plight of unaccompanied alien children. It is described in their report, “Children on the Run.” The plan includes methods for recognizing newly merging forms of displacement in Central America and the emergence of international protection issues; ways to strengthen and harmonize regional and national frameworks for ensuring international protection; and measures for addressing root causes.
    I pointed out that Congress could save unaccompanied alien children from the perils of the dangerous trip to the United States by making it possible for unaccompanied alien children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to benefit from the 10-Point Plan with a bill that would exempt them from the removal-hearing requirement in TVPRA and remove any other obstacles to moving them out of the United States. The children could then be moved to temporary locations outside of the United States, which could be chosen by agreement between the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States. When the children are safely placed at these locations, UNHCR could screen them to see which ones are eligible for refugee status. The rest of the children could be returned to their native countries when arrangements have been with the governments of those countries to provide safe environments for them.

    I do not know whether my proposal had anything to do with it, but in September 2014, the Obama Administration announced a new Central American Minors(CAM) Refugee Program:
    We are establishing in-country refugee processing to provide a safe, legal and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that children are currently undertaking to join relatives in the United States.... These programs will not be a pathway for children to join undocumented relatives in the United States.

    I applaud the Administration’s efforts to address this problem, but if the Administration had fully developed the CAM refugee program, as I think it should have, we would not have 69,278 unaccompanied alien children waiting for asylum hearings in the United States, with thousands more on their way, and our immigration courts would not have a 496,704-case backlog. And I worry about the unaccompanied children who made the trip with them who did not reach the United States. What became of them?

    This article is reprinted with permission from the author. It was originally published by the author on Huffington Post.

    About The Author
    Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years; he subsequently served as the immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for twenty years. He also has been a policy advisor for the DHS Office of Information Sharing and Collaboration under a contract with TKC Communications, and he has been in private practice as an immigration lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson.

    Updated 09-16-2016 at 12:01 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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