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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

More Syrian Refugees = More Asylum Seeker Delays?

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The U.S. government recently announced that we will be raising the refugee cap and accepting thousands of additional refugees from Syria. We’re hearing the usual angry voices decrying the “invaders” and the “jihadists,” but that is not what I want to discuss today (I’ve already written about Muslim refugees here). Instead, I want to cover two topics: First, I want to discuss the process of how refugees get selected and screened to come to the U.S., and second, I want to discuss whether the additional resources necessary to process these new refugee cases will impact people seeking asylum in the United States.
For refugees, waiting is a way of life.


So how does the U.S. government decide who gets resettled in our country? What is done to prevent terrorists and criminals (not to mention phony refugees who are simply economic migrants) from taking advantage of our generosity?


First, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (“USRAP”) is an interagency effort led by three government agencies: the U.S. State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement. The process also involves the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”), the International Organization for Migration, and a number of nongovernmental organizations that assist during various stages of the process.


A refugee case begins either through a referral or a direct application. Most cases (about 75%) are referred by UNHCR. Another 25% of cases come through direct applications under various programs. For example, there are programs for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and for religious minorities from Iran and the former Soviet Union. There is also a program for certain Cubans. The newest program is for Central American minors who have a lawfully-present parent in the United States. In addition, a few cases are referred to the program by U.S. embassies and certain NGOs.


Each applicant must complete a series of mandatory steps before she can be resettled in the U.S. These include an in-person DHS interview, a security background check, and a medical exam. The process is labor-intensive and generally takes 18 to 24 months from referral to arrival in the United States. It’s not cheap either. Last year, the USRAP cost the U.S. government over $1.1 billion.


After the refugee is selected, she must be interviewed. The interviews are conducted by DHS officers, and take place at more than 70 locations worldwide. Before the interviews, the applicants are assisted by different NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee and the International Organization for Migration, which collect biographic and other information that is forwarded to DHS for adjudication.


Next, all refugees undergo multiple security checks before they can be approved for resettlement in the United States. Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the U.S. The screenings are conducted by several agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, DHS, and the Department of Defense. Details of the security checks are classified, and so we do not know a whole lot about the process.


Finally, refugees undergo a health screening, TB testing, and three days of cultural orientation (where, presumably, they learn about McDonald’s, Taylor Swift, and hot pockets).


Travel to the U.S. is arranged by the International Organization for Migration. The U.S. government pays IOM for the cost of air travel, but before departing for the United States, refugees sign a promissory note agreeing to repay the cost of their travel (whether they actually repay the loan, I have no idea).


Nine domestic agencies in about 180 communities throughout the United States work to resettle the refugees. Every week, representatives from the agencies review biographic and other information to determine where to resettle each refugee. The agencies welcome refugees at the airport and begin the process of helping them settle into their new communities. The agencies also provide reception and placement services in the first 30 to 90 days after arrival. This includes finding safe and affordable housing and providing services to promote self-sufficiency and cultural adjustment. The Office of Refugee Resettlement continues to offer support to the refugees for up to five years after arrival.


So that’s the basic process that each refugee—including the additional Syrian refugees—will go through to get to the United States. It is not a fast process because of the vetting, but it is designed to minimize the risk of terrorists and criminals infiltrating the resettlement system.


One concern for asylum seekers is whether increasing the number of people admitted under the refugee program will impact the asylum system.


The asylum office is funded by USCIS customer fees. If you have ever applied for an immigration benefit, you know that filing fees can be expensive. A small portion of the fee covers the cost of operating our asylum system. So if resources are shifted around to resettle additional refugees, the asylum offices should not be affected. They have a different, independent source of funding. That's the good news.


The possible bad news is this: All the new refugees must undergo security background checks. This process is quite opaque, and therefore we know little about it. Whether the resources used for refugee background checks will impact the background checks for asylum seekers, we don’t know. It seems that refugees and asylum seekers are subject to many of the same security checks. If so, additional background checks for refugees might further slow the background check process for asylum seekers.


Thus, while the additional refugees probably will not slow down the asylum interview schedule, they might cause more delay for asylum seekers' background checks. Whether and how much of an impact there might be, we will know soon enough.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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