Statement for the Record | Living Up to America’s Promise: The Need to Bolster the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

Statement for the Record 

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
Living Up to America’s Promise: The Need to Bolster the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
March 22, 2023

Dr. Yael Schacher

Refugees International

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement for this timely hearing.

Refugees International is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for lifesaving assistance, human rights, and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We conduct fact-finding research and report on the circumstances of displaced populations globally. We do not accept any government or United Nations funding to ensure that our advocacy is impartial and independent. Refugees International strongly advocates for robust domestic resettlement as well as access to asylum in the United States.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) provides a critical pathway to permanent status in the United States to forcibly displaced people who remain in danger even after fleeing their homes. The United States and other countries around the world are not doing enough to resettle this tiny fraction of forcibly displaced people worldwide, estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to be about 2 million refugees in 2023. The Biden administration resettled just over 25,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2022, despite a Presidential Determination of 125,000. The United States simply must do better—not only because refugee resettlement is a proud national tradition and a critical component of global humanitarian leadership, but also because it greatly benefits U.S. communities who welcome refugees.  

Simply put: the administration, with the support of Congress, should be using refugee resettlement for many more people. Where it cannot, it should be providing more support to refugees where they are and using parole to ensure pathways to protection for those who need it. 

The current average wait time for processing through USRAP is four years, an unacceptably long time. The United States has resettled fewer than 15,000 refugees so far this fiscal year, while 200,000 people wait abroad in various stages of the pipeline. The line is especially long for relatives of resettled refugees who are still in danger. The State Department must continue to try to increase resettlement through additional staffing, digitization, and processing efficiencies. But it must also support those in the pipeline who are waiting abroad. 

The Biden administration must also bolster the resettlement pathways it has created and that, so far, has used in only very limited ways. For example, only five children have arrived in the United States as refugees (and one on parole) through the Biden administration’s expanded Central American minors program, which opened for new applications in September 2021. The administration has also not yet used USRAP for refugee populations impacted by climate change, though it promised to do so two years ago. In 2023, the administration must fulfill its promise to use the resettlement program for populations it has identified as of concern such as Eritreans and the Rohingya.

The United States cannot currently process for resettlement those Afghans in Pakistan who have been referred to a P2 program created specifically for them. Why then is it not using humanitarian parole? Refugee resettlement should be used whenever possible for refugee populations, because it means that refugees will be on a path to citizenship and have the services that they need to integrate after arrival. But barriers to resettlement do not absolve the United States government from providing safe pathways to populations to whom it promised access to refuge. Congress must continue to provide support to humanitarian populations who arrive on temporary status through additional funding to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and through passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act . 

Meaningful refugee participation is critical to the success of USRAP. The United States is part of a growing movement at a global level to ensure that refugees have a seat at the table when considering governance of the international refugee system. Supporting refugee participation that is substantive and sustained at the local, national, regional, and global level will make a direct contribution to making the international refugee system more effective, legitimate, and accountable. One concrete way to do this is to increase ORR grants to ethnic and community based organizations and, as proposed in the 2022 Refugee Protection Act, have the State Department fund community relations officers that focus on consultations with resettled refugees and refugee leader development. These officers can also do outreach to asylees and ensure asylees have access to services. 

It is wrong to pit resettled refugees against asylum seekers at the border, as if refuge in the United States were some zero sum game and as if refugees and asylum seekers were a burden on, rather than a benefit to, U.S. society. Restrictions on access to asylum at the border separate families and leave refugees in orbit in the Americas, unable to find safety or to support themselves. We should instead be harnessing the value that refugees bring to the United States and broadening access to refugee resettlement to help alleviate demands on our asylum system. 

Cover Photo: Afghan parolees, Israr and his wife Sayeda, walk under a U.S. Flag as they head to a dentist appointment in Charlestown, Massachusetts on February 21, 2022. Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images.