Frequently Asked Questions
Refugee resettlement is a tenet of U.S. foreign policy. It is also a place where foreign policy and local public policy intersect. “United States policy allows refugees of special humanitarian concern entrance into our country, reflecting our core values and our tradition of being a safe haven for the oppressed.” — U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, Brief History of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, July 2013
1) How are refugees referred to the United States for placement?
The process begins with a referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UN’s refugee agency is responsible for registering refugees around the world, and providing aid and assistance until they are either resettled abroad or returned home once conditions ease. The number of refugees registered with the UNHCR for 2016 was nearly 20 million, higher than immediately following World War II. The UNHCR determines who counts as a refugee, who should be resettled, and which countries will take them (only about a dozen nations worldwide accept refugees). The UNHCR registration process, which can take 4 to 10 months, includes in-depth refugee interviews, home country reference checks, and biometric screening to weed out military combatants.
Among those who pass these background checks, only about 1% of all registered refugees are referred for overseas resettlement based on criteria to determine the most vulnerable cases. This group may include survivors of torture, victims of sexual violence, targets of political persecution, the medically needy, families with multiple children, and families headed by females. Worldwide, the vast majority of refugees wind up either remaining in the country to which they have fled or returning to their country of origin after the conflict there has eased.
2) What happens once a refugee is referred to the United States?
Before last year, all refugees who arrived in this country had to undergo an extensive vetting process that included 20 steps, with two additional steps for Syrian refugees. Nine different government agencies met weekly to review each refugee’s case file and, if appropriate, determine where in the United States the individual should be placed. Every refugee’s name, biographical information, and fingerprints were run through federal terrorism and criminal databases. All refugees were also interviewed by officials in the Department of Homeland Security. If approved, the refugee had to undergo a medical screening, cultural orientation classes, and one final security clearance. The average time for a refugee to complete the U.S. government’s screening process was 18 to 24 months.
This process typically occurred before a refugee ever set foot on U.S. soil. Ultimately, about half of all refugees referred to the United States were denied. This system for vetting refugees for resettlement to the United States had been in place for more than three decades and was retooled after 9/11. This screening has prevented individuals with ties to terrorism from entering the United States.
In October 2017, the Trump Administration said it would increase vetting for all new refugees admitted under a new 45,000-per- year cap that became effective on October 1. Officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department did not provide details about the changes in vetting, but the new rules were said to include new requirements, such as providing all phone numbers and email addresses for places they have lived for more than 30 days for the last 10 years (up from 5 years under prior vetting rules) and sharing contact information for all family members (increased from family members living in the United States or with U.S. connections under prior rules).
3) How do we know that members of terrorist groups aren’t trying to sneak into the United States by posing as refugees?
All refugees taken in by the United States undergo extensive background checks, first by the UNHCR (see #1) and then by the U.S. government (see #2). Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the United States has admitted some 785,000 refugees. None have been convicted on domestic terrorism charges.
Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any traveler category to the United States. As Anne Speckhard, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post (October 5, 2016), “It makes no operational sense” for ISIS to take advantage of the refugee program. “Given how easy it is to send a European extremist to the U.S. via Europe, why would an ISIS guy wait the three years it takes to get refugee status?”
4) How have things changed since January 2017?
In January and March 2017, President Trump signed executive orders banning refugees from entering the United States. Although the two versions differed slightly, the executive orders imposed a 90-day ban on the issuance of visas for citizens of a half dozen Muslim-majority nations. They also suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and lowered the overall number of refugees allowed to enter the country annually from 110,000 under the Obama administration to 50,000. Since then, the number of refugees entering the United States has plummeted, despite the fact that federal courts have consistently blocked both versions of the ban, according to groups working with refugees, a report by the Pew Research Center, and an analysis of government figures by USA Today.
Since March 2017, the administration has issued more bans on people from Muslim-majority nations and, despite various courts blocking versions of the bans, parts of the most recent ban are being implemented. This has resulted in a virtual dismantling of the U.S. refugee program. In addition, this fiscal year, the Trump Administration has set the cap for refugee admissions at 45,000, the lowest in the history of the United States; based on the current pace of arrivals, only about 15,000 to 20,000 refugees are expected to be admitted this year. (For information on how many refugees have been admitted in any given fiscal year, see http://www.rcusa.org.)
5) Who are the refugees?
Refugees come to the United States from many countries. The majority come from Iraq, Myanmar, nations of the former Soviet Union, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, and Haiti. Roughly half the refugees are children. Approximately a quarter are adults over 60.
6) I’ve heard that refugees cost taxpayers a lot of money in services. Is this true?
A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost. The internal study, which was completed in July 2017 but never released publicly by the Trump Administration, found that refugees contributed an estimated $269 billion in revenues to all levels of government between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state, and local taxes. Over all, the net fiscal impact was positive over the 10-year period at $63 billion.
7) How are refugees settled in Lane County?
The Refugee Resettlement Coalition of Lane County (RRCLC) is a coalition of faith-based groups, service organizations, and people from the Eugene-Springfield community coordinating with Catholic Community Services of Lane County (CCS) that was formed in May 2016 to welcome and support refugees resettling in Lane County.
The refugees who have been settled here are part of a program that seeks to reunite refugees with family members and friends already living in this country. CCS manages the local program as part of the national refugee resettlement program administered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration & Refugee Services. CCS provides case management support, and works in tandem with the RRCLC to set these families on the path toward English-language fluency, employment, cultural acclimatization, and self-sufficiency. As a practical sign of self-sufficiency, refugees are required to reimburse the State Department for the full cost of their plane tickets to this country.
There is a limit of 35 refugees (individual family members) per year. This number is set by the Remote Placement Program, established in a joint agreement between CCS and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services. Due to the executive orders signed by President Trump (see #4), only a small fraction of this
number has been resettled in Lane County. The RRCLC remains ready to receive new refugees.
8) Why is there a need for refugee placement assistance in Lane County?
The refugees who are being resettled in Lane County are part of the U.S. Ties program. This program reunites refugees with family members who are already living in Lane County. The State Department seeks to reunite families rather than to place refugees in settings where they may feel more isolated.
9) Why can’t the refugee program managed by Catholic Charities in Portland also oversee refugee placement in Lane County?
The refugee program in Portland has been operating for about 60 years. However, current U.S. State Department rules prohibit all urban refugee resettlement programs, such as Catholic Charities in Portland, from managing refugee placements that are more than 100 miles away. CCS has been certified as a Remote Placement Program.
10) How is the Lane County refugee program funded?
Under the agreement between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services and CCS, the Remote Placement Program provides limited funding for direct assistance to refugee families as well as toward the cost of case management services for a period of 30-90 days. CCS is seeking additional funding from the community to help refugee families until their English language ability and job skills allow them to be self-supporting. The all-volunteer RRCLC works with CCS to raise funds and ensure the refugee families are supported as they integrate into local society.
11) Why bring refugees here when Lane County already has a large population of people living in poverty?
CCS has served Lane County for 65 years, assisting more than 30,000 homeless and needy members of our community annually with food, clothing, housing and jobs. CCS is committed to continuing these programs while adding refugee resettlement; aid to refugees comes from funds raised specifically for this purpose and does not take away any resources for other CCS programs.
CCS and the RRCLC are not choosing between addressing poverty among local citizens and providing refugee assistance. Volunteers can act both locally and globally, helping all groups who are in need in our community.
Many refugees are escaping from war-torn regions. They have been forced to leave their homes and need a safe place to live. They have already been vetted, approved, and invited by our government to come to the United States to live permanently, and are now part of the local community.
12) How does RRCLC help refugees arriving in Lane County?
• meets refugees at the airport
• provides a temporary safe place to stay with essential furnishings
• helps locate permanent housing, food, and other necessities
• provides cultural orientation and interpretation assistance as needed
• assists with all paperwork associated with establishing residency in the United States
• facilitates refugees’ enrollment in English as a second language instruction
• supports enrolling children in school
• refers refugees to medical screenings and health insurance
• helps adult refugees find employment and become self-supporting as soon as possible
13) With refugee admissions slowed, what else is RRCLC doing?
The RRCLC and CCS launched a three-month pilot project in January 2018 to assist individuals living in Lane County who have filed for asylum. At the end of the three-month period, the groups will determine whether to continue beyond the pilot phase of the project. The RRCLC also engages in advocacy and community education, holding an annual World Refugee Day in June, sponsoring films and speaking events, and providing information about refugees and asylum seekers to individuals and groups.
14) I’d like to help. How can I find out more about assisting with refugee resettlement in Lane County?