Should we take in more or fewer refugees?

Resettling refugees is complicated, expensive and labor intensive. Should we decrease the number of refugees we take into the US? Or increase it?

Let’s take a look.

refugee vs. immigrant

Resettled refugees are not the same as immigrants. Immigrants plan their migration. Refugees don’t: they’re forced to leave their home countries because of circumstances outside of their control, like extreme violence from war and crime.

After leaving their home country, refugees usually stay in camps, often for extended time periods, while they wait for permanent resettlement.

the vetting begins

UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) works to protect international refugee communities. They screen applicants to determine whether they qualify as refugees and then refer them to the U.S. and other countries for resettlement.

The vetting time – from the UNHCR referral to arrival in the U.S. for resettlement –averages 18 to 24 months. Vetting is a long, careful process. Resettlement is even longer.

resettlement in the US

After arrival in the U.S., every refugee is met at the airport by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer to check papers and identity.

In the meantime, resettlement agencies arrange for housing, including basic furnishings, appliances, clothing, and food. When the refugees arrive, the resettlement agencies take refugees to their new homes.

These agencies also help refugees with applying for Social Security cards, registering kids in school, accessing shopping facilities, arranging medical appointments, and connecting them with needed social or language services.

The State Department’s Reception and Placement program provides refugees with a loan for travel to the U.S., which they are required to start repaying after they arrive.

They provide a one-time monetary gift per refugee to finance their first 30-90 days in the U.S. That money is for basic necessities as well as other integration services.

Refugees are given medical assistance, short-term language help, employment options, and other social services.

Refugees are provided employment authorization and are encouraged to become employed as soon as possible so that they can support themselves.

Refugees are required to apply for a green card to become a permanent resident after one year in the United States. After five years of residency, they become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

President Trump

President Trump has proposed the refusal of any green card applications from refugees that receive government services.

President Trump also intends to decrease the number of refugees allowed into the country.

We should continue to decrease the number of refugees entering in the U.S.

economics

The government suggests $300 billion of annual cost to U.S. taxpayers is used to fund refugees.

PolitiFact took a look at that $300 billion figure, which turned out to be a little more nuanced than the previous statement suggests.

The $300 billion number came from a study done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration.

Politifact talked to a contributor to the study who said that, in 2013, the total cost — which was the average cost minus average income (from taxes, etc) multiplied by 55.5 million individuals — was $279 billion for the first generation of immigrants.

The National Academies found that first-generation immigrants (born outside of the US) cost governments more than the native-born Americans. A large part of those costs are for education, which means they are burdens on state and local governments.

But the study also showed that second generation immigrants “are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population,” with tax contributions greater than their parents and the native-born population.

So, the study showed, in the long term, the immigrant impact is “generally positive” at the federal level but remains negative at state and local levels.

government benefits

Most public benefits (like food assistance, welfare, etc) are only intended to be temporary, to help people who may already have jobs to become self-sufficient.

But, more than half of all immigrant households use one or more public benefits, according to the Trump administration, referencing a 2012 study from the Center for Immigration Studies.

opposition to refugees

Pew Research shows that historic opinion polls (going back several decades) indicate Americans have opposed admitting large numbers of refugees from countries where people are fleeing war and oppression.

education

UPenn’s Wharton Business School took a look at the effects of immigration on US economy and concluded that while immigration has a net positive effect on federal, state, and local budgets (through increased productivity, taxes, consumer purchases, etc), not all budgets benefit equally.

In areas with large populations of less educated, low-income immigrants, native-born residents bear significant costs due to immigrants’ use of public services, especially education.

Note: Federal grants are provided to states and school districts to help offset these costs.

We should increase the number of immigrants coming into the U.S.

history

President Trump has reduced the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to an unprecedented (low) maximum of 30,000 a year. Geek out on refugee numbers from our past.

The number of refugees resettled in the United States decreased more than in any other country in 2017, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. This is the first time since the start of the 1980 US Refugee Act that the U.S. resettled fewer refugees than the rest of the world.

At the same time, the global refugee population increased by 2.75 million, and reached a record 19.9 million in 2017, according to UNHCR.

mitigating the cost of caring for refugees

Philadelphia Refugee Health Collaborative is a model program that provides health services to refugees. The US government mandates health screening and orientation to the US health care system for refugees within 30 days of arrival in the US, and the Philadelphia Collaborative helps to meet these guidelines. The screening includes immunizations and communicable disease screening as well as an assessment of personal health needs.

PRHC clinics provide services through private donations and volunteers in a model that could be more widely used across the country.

support provided through community outreach and faith-based work as well as government services

Resettlement agencies determine the local placement of new arrivals and support the transitions into life in the US, including providing food, housing, clothing and furniture as well as language instruction, employment placement, enrollment of children at school, and help signing up for social services. Most of this initial assistance is provided by private donations and volunteers in the community.

some federal benefits have time limits and requirements

Refugees have access to federal government benefits, subject to time limits, and varying state rules. Job training and skills
recertifications as well as child care, English language classes, and citizenship preparation are provided, but only on arrival.

Refugees are required to apply for lawful permanent residence or green card status after one year in the US.

moral imperative

The US is huge and rich and successful. Most of the refugees are children, and most are from horrendous war-torn areas. They are often traumatized. Should some decisions transcend economic benefit?

And, if we’re talking about economics, should we consider that more Americans are on public assistance than immigrants? And, should we consider that we are losing more government tax dollars to public assistance than we are taking in? In other words, public assistance is not at break-even for the American-born population either.

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