State Dept. Briefing on Iraqi Refugees, Part II, how many exactly?

This is Part II in a series on the February 4th State Dept. briefing on the Iraqi displaced persons issue.  See Part I here.   We are bringing these additional points to you because the coverage we saw in the mainstream media missed a few nuggets!

When the President signed into law the “Refugee Crisis in Iraqi Act” at the end of January, those of us following this issue wondered if the new law which specified 5000 Iraqis would be brought each year for the next five years meant the 5000 was on top of the 12,000 the Bush Administration aims for this fiscal year.  By the way, the Presidential Determination for FY 08 for all refugees sets a ceiling of 70,000 refugees from all parts of the world. 

A reporter getting lost in the numbers asked this:

Wait a minute – this 12,000 does not include this 5,000? The 12,000 will go up?

Ambassador Foley set the record straight and added an interesting bit of information.

Well, Congress specifically wrote into the law that it will not count as part of our global admissions goals, including the 12,000 for Iraqi refugees. However, the law does mandate that recipients of Special Immigrant Visas receive full refugee resettlement benefits, so – and unfortunately did not provide funding for that. So it is at this stage, in any case, what you could call an unfunded mandate. And the practical impact is that ultimately we’ll have to take – we’ll have to account for these SIV recipients, for their resettlement needs, out of the budget that goes towards the global number. So it could come at the expense of not necessarily Iraqi refugees but our global admissions numbers. Remember, the 12,000 is part of our global goal of 70,000, that in cooperation with Homeland Security we’re trying to process, adjudicate, approve and have enter the U.S. this fiscal year. And resources are finite and in this case, we will face robbing Peter to pay Paul, unless the appropriation is forthcoming to pay for the resettlement benefits that will go to Special Immigrant Visa recipients under this law.

When someone is designated a refugee it’s like hitting the lottery, you get to come to America and be taken care of—airfare, apartment subsidy, food stamps, case worker etc.    As for the unfunded mandates mentioned by the Ambassodor,  Congress passes a bill, the President signs it into law but they forget one measly point—they don’t appropriate money for it!  That leaves the agency struggling with how to stretch the dollars, and later when they are unable to do so, interest groups clamor, members of Congress respond by calling for hearings and drag some poor agency schmuck up to the Hill for a tongue lashing. 

Based on what Ambassador Foley said above, it looks like Refugees International and the Associated Press will be squawking again as the year progresses and the magic numbers (5000 plus 12,000) are not reached.