Four Former U.S. Officials Defend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

On September 16, 2019, President Trump signed an Executive Order designed to give state and local officials the power to block refugees from being resettled in their jurisdictions through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In November 2019, three agencies involved in refugee resettlement—HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service—filed suit in the federal District Court in Maryland, arguing that the order violates the U.S. Refugee Act. The District Court for the District of Maryland issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the executive order, but the administration has appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  

In issuing his January 2020 opinion declaring that the plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction would be granted, the district court judge indicated that the Refugee Act already requires that federal officials administering the resettlement program consult with state and local officials about the best placement of refugees, taking into account the availability of employment, housing, and other needed resources and services. The judge further noted that, when Congress reauthorized the Refugee Act, it did not intend to give States and localities veto power over refugee placement decisions, but rather to ensure their input into the process. 

In an amici curiae brief in the appeal litigation, four former officials who ran the State Department bureau responsible for refugee resettlement express support for the position of the resettlement agencies. The four former officials include James Purcell (who served in the Reagan administration), Arthur “Gene” Dewy (who served in the George W. Bush administration), Anne Richard (who served in Obama administration), and Refugees International President Eric Schwartz (who also served in the Obama administration). The brief was prepared by attorneys in the firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

The brief for the Court of Appeals, which you can read here, notes that that the EO undermines the principle of federal authority for immigration, and is in conflict with the consultation provisions of the Refugee Act of 1980. The brief describes how each Assistant Secretary of State responded to state and local concerns about placements and made the best matches between community resources and the needs of refugees. 

The brief is a bi-partisan testament to past efforts to make resettlement work well and to a current effort to fend off one of many assaults on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.