The United States is the world’s most generous donor country addressing the global refugee problem. Funding for humanitarian assistance and resettlement of the world’s most vulnerable individuals has traditionally had strong bipartisan support in Congress.
We have provided food, water, shelter and medical assistance to millions of Afghans fleeing the Taliban, Burmese escaping the brutal military junta, Iraqis and now Syrians fleeing sectarian violence, Sudanese and Somalis, and countless other victims of horrific war-related violence.
There has been a clear understanding of who qualifies for refugee status and support. The 1951 Refugee Convention clearly spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” In 1967, the definition was expanded to include people fleeing the violence of war.
The definition is now being clouded by those who are calling the new arrivals from Central America flooding across our southern borders “refugees.” Few if any fit the international definition of “refugee.” Fear of street gangs and drug cartels does not qualify one for refugee status.
According to interviews being conducted of our new “guests,” the primary reason for the current migration to the United States is widely circulating rumors in home countries that unaccompanied children and adult females traveling with minors will be given free passes, or “permisos,” allowing them to stay. These Central American migrants are no different than millions of people living in poverty and violence around the world who would like to migrate to the United States to pursue a better life and economic opportunity.
Refugees and migrants are treated very differently under international law, with good reason. Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees must move in order to save their lives or preserve their freedom.
Some claim that the recent flood of migrants pouring into the United States has been caused by violence in Central American countries. Crime, drugs and violence have long been a way of life in these countries, however, as reported by National Review, and statistics show a significant decline in homicide rates in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in recent years.
U.S. refugee policy is focused on finding durable solutions. Our top priority is to create situations that allow refugees to return home, which is what most refugees hope to do one day. We provide humanitarian assistance through international and nongovernmental organizations to assist refugees in the countries in which they have found asylum, in some cases for decades. In many countries, refugees are kept in bleak refugee camps, and are not free to move around the country. Since they cannot provide for themselves, they are totally dependent on international assistance.
Only a tiny percent of the world’s refugees, who have no hope of repatriation, are resettled permanently in the United States. In recent years, our resettlement quota has been set around 50,000 to 70,000 annually.
Unlike the current migrants violating our border, refugees who are accepted for resettlement must first have undergone extensive background security checks to ensure that they pose no threat to America. Refugee applicants must clear all required security checks prior to final approval of their application, including biographic name checks for all refugee applicants and fingerprint checks for refugee applicants aged 14 to 79.
We know nothing of the identity or background of most of the illegal migrants currently being given easy entry to the United States, and flown and bused around the country by the Obama administration. Statistics show that very few will show up at a future hearing to determine if they should be granted asylum.
Now the Obama administration is proposing turning the refugee policy on its head, by going to Honduras, a country with a crime problem, but certainly not at “war,” and interviewing young people under 21. The intent is to redefine them as ” refugees” and transport them to the United States (where they would immediately qualify for public assistance). There is no mention of their parents. Would they be left behind or would the next step be family reunification?
This pilot program supposedly would stem the flow of illegals, but it might better be described as “the willful suspension of disbelief.”
Ellen Sauerbrey is a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.