homepage logo

More information needed

By Staff | Nov 27, 2015

I’m saddened by the mood of the American people who wish to ban Syrians from the US Refugee program. However, I’m not surprised by the misinformation that prevails about the program itself. There are two ways to get refugee status in the U.S. People can come here on a visitors visa, or cross the border without a visa and apply for asylum. Their status is decided by an American judge. Judges seem to me surprisingly lenient. Many asylees, such as the Tsnarnev brothers parents, were awarded refugee status even though they were “firmly resettled” in Kyrgizstan and did not need to seek safety in the U.S. It also appears that refugee law is interpreted differently for asylees. You can be fleeing an abusive partner and qualify for asylum in the U.S.

A refugee is a person with a “well founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, religion or political belief” Fear of persecution is different from fear of civil strife (war). It is targeted to the individual and extends to the family. As far as I know the U.S. Immigration officials who adjudicate applications abroad are still using the strict legal definition of “refugee” to determine admission to the U.S.

Numbers and nationalities for admission to the U.S. from abroad are negotiated with the Congress every year but there is no numerical limit on people already in the country who are awarded asylum.

The U.S. Refugee Program is painstaking and strict! People applying for refugee status are first referred to the nearest office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. If the UNHCR documents that person as a refugee and if the applicant has ties to the U.S., such as having worked for a U.S. entity, he or she is screened for refugee resettlement in the U.S. This screening usually takes well over a year, during which time the Refugee Officer gets to know the applicant quite well. Periodically an official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) section of the Department of Homeland Security comes to the Consulate to interview refugees who have been screened for admission. He or she considers the applicant, studies the file and adjudicates the applicant for admission. Those who are admitted face another wait for FBI name checks, travel documents and tickets. Upon arrival the U.S. the refugees are assisted by churches and charitable organizations since, unlike immigrants, they have no relatives or jobs waiting for them.

This is a very abbreviated (and probably boringly legalistic) description of a very complicated process. More info is available at the websites of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the UNCHR, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the nine or ten charitable organizations that are contracted to provide resettlement services to people entering the U.S. as refugees.

There are much easier ways to enter the US if you want to make mischief. I note with sorrow that most of the miscreants here and in Europe are the children of people who left their home countries for a better life.

American fear and anger are understandable, but its hard to be proud of those emotions. Perhaps more information can help us recover our nobler American values.


Renny Smith

Retired Foreign Service Officer, who worked as a Refugee Officer abroad

and did her MSW internship in the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office in Washington D.C.