Reuters: Former U.S. officials urge balance in refugee cost reports

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former officials of the State Department and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service have written to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging that two White House-ordered reports on refugee resettlement costs be balanced by also tallying the benefits refugees bring to the United States.

Reuters in June first reported discord over the reports, which President Donald Trump ordered in March. Four current and former officials said they believe the Trump administration wants to help make a case to restrict refugee flows by creating a skewed analysis.

A White House spokesman at the time denied ordering biased reports.

Trump campaigned for president on a platform of restricting immigration and building a border wall with Mexico. His March order framing the reports, which are due in September, did not ask that they include the economic or diplomatic benefits of resettling refugees, which many experts say can be considerable over time.

“We believe that an assessment of the long-term costs of the Refugee Admissions Program must also gauge the long-term economic and social benefits of the program, and that failure to do so will paint a misleading picture of the program’s value to the United States,” the 10 former senior officials and academics wrote to Tillerson.

The letter was sent to Tillerson on Wednesday and made public on Thursday.

For the first report, Trump ordered a tally of “the estimated long-term costs of the United States Refugee Admissions Program at the Federal, State, and local levels, along with recommendations about how to curtail those costs.”

Trump directed that the second report estimate “how many refugees are being supported in countries of first asylum (near their home countries) for the same long-term cost as supporting refugees in the United States, taking into account the full lifetime cost of Federal, State, and local benefits, and the comparable cost of providing similar benefits elsewhere.”

The letter’s authors called that a “flawed exercise,” saying that while keeping refugees in camps overseas may be cheaper in some cases, it does not provide a sustainable long-term solution.

“The cost of a fish may be less than that of a fishing pole, but only the latter will free the beneficiary from dependency into the future,” they wrote.

Signers of the letter include Arthur Dewey and Eric Schwartz, both former assistant secretaries of state for population, refugees and migration; former deputy INS commissioner Myrta Sale; and three former INS general counsels.