Writng in the Seattle Post Intelligencer yesterday, Michael Kagan, an attorney with Asylum Access laid out his proposals for how the Obama Administration should proceed with refugee resettlement reform.
He begins with chastisement:
In European elections, rising xenophobia leads politicians to compete to show their hostility to asylum seekers. But Americans are supposed to be different. As Obama told Europeans in Berlin in July, “Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom — indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours.”
But in recent decades, we have neglected that part of our heritage. That is why Obama has an opening. He needs to restore our country’s moral standing, and American refugee policy is in dire need of restoration.
In 1980, we invited 200,000 refugees to our shores, but that figure has since declined by a startling 80 percent. Effective control of the U.S. refugee program is split between the United Nations, a few private organizations and two different federal departments.
In a world with 16 million refugees, this Byzantine system somehow fails year after year to find enough refugees to fill a meager resettlement quota of 70,000.
Although I disagree with his goal of dramatically increasing the number of refugees entering the US from its recent rough average of 50-60 thousand a year to hundreds of thousands (where are they all going to work?), I agree that the system is Byzantine. It is a tangled web involving the UN, the State Department and 10 major non-profit group federal contractors and nearly 400 subcontractors. It is a system that is frankly a morass—unfair to refugees and to the citizens of the resettlement towns and cities.
Mr. Kagan goes on to make 4 suggestions:
* Increase our refugee quota.
* Let average Americans sponsor refugees who want to come to the United States.
* Establish a U.S. Refugee Corps to recruit young American professionals to go around the world and be the face of our refugee program.
* Do it all with high-profile presidential leadership.
We simply cannot increase our number of refugees. We have written many posts lately about unemployed and unhappy refugees leading miserable lives in the United States, some wishing to return home. If we are going to bring refugees, then we need to be able to take care of them and our present Byzantine system has too many falling through the cracks.
Which leads me to whole-hearted support for his second proposal and one we have been making for the last year—refugees should be sponsored by individual families, churches and other groups, and preferably not sponsored by some family member who has been here for such a short period of time that they are still struggling themselves.
Completely get rid of the volags (these non-profit government contractor middlemen). And, we should only bring the number of refugees for which sponsors have been identified. The sponsors would be wholly responsible for the care of the refugee or refugee family for however long it takes for the refugee to be on his or her feet— not placing the burden on the US taxpayer.
Such a system would also, most likely, assure that the refugee would become assimilated to life in America with American sponsors. The present system basically dumps refugees in cities with a few months supervision by a volag and then bam they are on their own.
I can’t imagine though a bunch of young people running around the world identifying prospective refugees. It almost sounds like the writer wants government sponsored junkets for him and his friends. Isn’t that what the State Department should be doing?
And, finally, if I were a betting person, I bet Obama isn’t going to do anything with high-profile Presidential leadership, at least judging by his recent rather pedestrian decisions.