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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

FAIR’s Report on Asylees and Refugees Offers a Distorted Picture

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The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently released a report calling for reform of our country's refugee and asylum policies.  The report, titled Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform, was authored by FAIR's Director of Special Projects, Jack Martin.  The report covers a wide range of topics, from refugee admissions, to Temporary Protected States (TPS), to Chinese family planning asylum.  In general-and as expected-it calls for restricting humanitarian benefits for people seeking protection in the United States.  Concerning asylum, the report states:

Our country's asylum law has been expanded by legislation and by court decisions to the extent that it has grown from a small program intended for unusual situations, where the return to a home country would constitute exposure to persecution, to become a major component of immigrant admissions. It too, by the absence of evidentiary standards, is open to fraud by persons who have no other basis for entry as immigrants.   

Having reviewed the report, there are some points I agree with, more points that I disagree with, and a few questions I have about the report's methodology.  The report is fairly long (36 pages), and there are a number of points worth discussing, so I will devote a couple blog posts to my response.  For today's post, I want to raise a few questions about the report's methodology. 

The report, p. 5, states that "combined refugee and asylee admissions have hit new levels in recent years, exceeding 200,000 in 2006," but it is not clear where FAIR gets its numbers.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2006, 41,150 people were admitted into the United States as refugees, 12,873 were granted asylum affirmatively, and 13,240 were granted asylum defensively.  By my calculation, the total number of refugee and asylee admissions for 2006 was 67,263 people.  The figure of 200,000 likely refers to the number of asylees and refugees who adjusted status to lawful permanent residents in 2006.  These are not new admissions.  Rather, these are people who have been in the United States-in some cases for many years-who were able to adjust status after the cap on refugee adjustments was lifted in 2005. 


Does anyone really trust statistics?

Also on page 5 of the report, there is a chart showing how many refugees and asylees were admitted into the U.S. from 1990 to 2009.  The data on the chart purportedly comes from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.  But even a casual comparison of the Yearbook to FAIR's chart reveals major discrepancies.  For example, FAIR's chart shows that over 100,000 refugees were admitted into the United States in 2009.  However, the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Table 13) states that 74,602 refugees were admitted in 2009.  The chart also shows over 100,000 refugee admissions in 2002, but the Yearbook (Table 13) indicates that only 26,765 refugees were admitted in 2002.  Again, FAIR's numbers appear to be the number of refugees who adjusted status (i.e., obtained their green card) in a given year, not the number of refugees who actually entered the United States in the specified year.

Page 6 of the report refers to refugees from the Soviet Block.  The report notes that the number of refugees has "nosedived" since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but states: "It is significant, however, that the admission of refugees from Russia and the Ukraine has not ended."  Next to this statement is a chart, purportedly showing the number of refugees from the "Soviet Union/Ukraine."  The chart shows that about 4,000 refugees came from the "Soviet Union/Ukraine" in 2009.  A review of the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Table 14) shows that in 2009, 495 refugees came from Russia and 601 came from the Ukraine, for a total of 1,096, far short of the 4,000 refugees listed on FAIR's chart.  Again, FAIR seems to be listing the number of refugees from the former Soviet Union who are adjusting status, not the number of new admissions.  Some of these refugees may have lived in the U.S. for decades before adjusting status.

Page 14 of the report unfairly represents the proportion of refugees accepted by the United States.  The report states:

[The] United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR)... states that the United States accepted of 62,000 refugees out of 84,000 who were identified as needing permanent resettlement by that agency in 2009 -- nearly three-fourths of the total.

In fact, footnote 23 of the FAIR report states that: "In 2009, UNHCR submitted 129,000 refugees for resettlement.... 84,000 refugees were actually resettled last year."  So it seems to me a bit misleading to say that the U.S. accepted "62,000 refugees out of 84,000 who were identified as needing permanent resettlement," when, in reality, the UN identified 129,000 refugees in need of permanent resettlement (and when there are about 15 million refugees worldwide).  This means that the U.S. accepted less than half of the refugees identified for resettlement, not three-fourths as stated in FAIR's report. 

In sum, FAIR's report gives a distorted impression of the number of refugees and asylees coming to the U.S.  The report should have relied on the number of new arrivals-not the number of refugees and asylees who are already here and who are applying for residency-to make its points.  Perhaps this would have made FAIR's points somewhat less compelling, since the number of refugees and asylees arriving in the U.S. is less than what the report represents, but it would have had the virtue of being less misleading.

In future posts, I will discuss some points of agreement and disagreement with FAIR's policy recommendations.

Originally published on the Asylumist:

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