It would come as unwelcome news to the vast majority of Americans that even now, in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and a decade after 9/11, that this country admits upwards of 80,000 refugees each year on little more than the recommendation of a foreign organization and once here compete for low-paying jobs with our high-school graduates. But that is the essence of our refugee system. Refugees are persons who have fled their home countries due to fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality or membership “in a particular social group.” 8 U.S.C. sec. 1101(42)(part of the Immigration and Nationality Act). There are many refugees in the world, and the U.S. is a caring country. After World War II the U.S. signed on to the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Basically this means we must cooperate with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an arm of the U.N. and other NGO’s which house refugees in camps throughout the world and try to resettle them. The IOM first tries to resettle refugees in a third country, such as where refugee camps are located or where the refugees have relatives who will sponsor them. But when those options are not possible, the IOM places the refugees with countries which have signed on to the U.N. Protocol, meaning some come here.
The recent indictment of Mohamud Adbi Yusuf, a refugee from Somalia who allegedly conspired with other Somalis throughout the U.S. to transmit money to Al-Shabaab, a foreign terrorist organization, raises very troubling questions. What background checks are conducted before refugees are admitted to the U.S.? Who conducts the checks, the IOM or the U.S. government? What happens to refugees after they are “paroled” (admitted) into the U.S.? I’ve spent days researching these questions, and the answers are completely unsatisfactory.
First, the State Department works closely with IOM in selecting refugees for admission to the U.S. The IOM selects refugees from U.N.-operated camps throughout the world. Once a refugee is designated by the IOM as suitable for resettlement in the U.S., it assists the refugee in completing the Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) Biographic Information Form and the I-590, the refugee application, and submits them to DHS for processing. The forms are short and request just the basics: name, country of origin, reasons for fleeing, education, military service (a very important factor, as the militaries of some countries, like the former Yugoslavia, are perpetrators of crimes against civilians, which can disqualify one from obtaining refugee status), immediate family members’ names and whether the applicant has ever been in the U.S. Since refugees have no access to government records, such as birth certificates, and often do not even have passports, the application is unsupported by other materials or supporting affidavits. Is the refugee listing his or her real name? Does he have a criminal record in his native country, or some other country? Who knows? And no such information is sought by IOM, an organization that exists to assist and place refugees, not ferret out criminals. Its refugee interviews are private and confidential, though a few have turned up on You Tube. Watch them, read the materials about conducting refugee interviews, and you realize very quickly they are skewed to facilitate the would-be refugee’s desire to be placed in a new country. So no questions about such topics as brushes with the law, use of illicit drugs, membership in unsavory organizations, or any of the other telltale signs of trouble are asked. The interviewers simply ask for the details, and they can be horrific, of why they left their homelands, what would (purportedly) happen to them if they returned, and what they want to do next. The answers to these questions are essential for these people to meet the legal definition of refugees, but they are not the questions the U.S. needs to know in protecting our national security.
Some recent cases where refugees have been convicted of fraudulently omitting key information from their I-590’s make me wonder if the IOM is even serious about discovering the truth in establishing refugee eligibility. In United States v. Vidack, 553 F.3d 344 (4th Cir. 2009), a Serbian refugee was convicted on omitting to list on his I-590 his service in the Army of Republika Srpska (“the Serbian Army”), which according to the U.S. and the International Criminal Court, perpetrated thousands of human rights violations in the 1990’s. His membership in that notorious group would have disqualified him from refugee status. This might be an unremarkable case but for the fact that Mr. Vidack was assisted in his fraud by the IOM, whose translator knew the truth but omitted it from the I-590 and took other steps to conceal it from reaching U.S. officials. In another case, an IOM interviewer actually told a Bosnian who was about to confess his membership in the Serbian Army, “Wait a minute, that subject is not talked about in this building [the IOM].” And so it wasn’t, and the ineligible refugee obtained his refugee status by fraud, and because of the IOM’s apparent act of abetting it, was able to maintain an entrapment defense to his prosecution. United States v. Ubiparipovic, 2007 WL 1958836 (D. Ariz. 2007). A third recent case of refugee fraud implicted one Dr. Arti Gehani, a voluinteer with the International Rescue Committee, with omitting to disclose the refugee’s membership in the Serbian Army. United States v. Boskic, 545 F.3d 69 (1st Cir. 2008). When confromted withthe truth by federal officials, Mr. Boskic stated, “if you had a woman that you loved [in the U.S.] and wanted to be with her, wouldn’t you lie to keep her?” Id. Thus, Boskic was not a refugee, simply lovestruck, making Dr. Gehani’s conduct all the more reprehensible.
In 2008 the U.S. was forced to suspend its “family reunification” program for African refugees which enabled those here (known as “anchors” in refugee-speak) to obtain priority status for the applications of their immediate relatives after it was discovered that many of the “relatives” failed DNA tests administered to prove a blood relationship. So much for the good character of the refugees. But honesty and other traits of good character are not requirements for refugee status. So the U.S. cannot remove dishonest refugees. They can only be removed from the country if a threat to national security or the “public order.” I.N.S. v. Slevic, 467 U.S. 407, 717 n.10 (1984). And after one year here, they are required to apply for permanent residency status (commonly known as a “green card”). 8 C.F.R. 209.1(b). So even if the conditions in their home countries improve, and they are able to return in safety, they will not be going back. Refugees become lawful permanent residents, and likely, citizens within 10 years. The system is not designed for temporary residence in the U.S., as it should be if it were for purely humanitarian purposes. This too is another reason to halt the program is it is practiced now.
The U.S. government is simply relying too heavily on the IOM and other U.N.-affiliated NGO’s, professional refugee processing entities, in vouching for these people. Does the DHS do any better? Once a refugee is recommended by IOM, DHS conducts a backround check before admitting the person into the country. This check consists of running their fingerprints through the F.B.I.’s database, crosschecking their name against names on watch and terrorist lists and those previously rejected for immigration status. That’s it. Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate Asylum Procedures Manual (2007),http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Humanitarian/Refugees%20&%20Asylum/Asylum/2007_AAPM.pdf (visited 1/5/11). I don’t see how these cursory cross-checks against databases of known terrorists and criminals could catch anyone who means us ill but just hasn’t already been convicted of a crime or committed a terrorist act. Essentially, we’re taking an enormous gamble with every one of these people.
After learning how the system works, I question whether we can have refugee admissions in the post-9/11 world. The IOM is wedded to its pro-refugee agenda. DHS and other government agencies are incapable of knowing the truth about refugees delivered to our borders by IOM and its affiliates in the NGO world. Thus, the U.S. should put a halt to admitting refugees until a better system is operable. Perhaps we need to withdraw from the U.N. refugee apparatus in this day and age when much of the world hates us. Admitting 80,000 refugees each year is simply incompatible with national security. (And I note that the Obama Administration’s refugee point man, Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees & Migration, favors raising the limit and was successful in doing so from 75,000 in 2009.) Why not take a halt to the whole process while we study alternatives? Why has the U.S. admitted 43,682 refugees from Somalia after 9/11? Why are humanitarians, rather than sober security officials, in charge of U.S. refugee policy? I think Mr. Schwartz should be out of his job and be replaced by Rudolph Giuliani.
There is another major problem with admitting 80,000 refugees each year. They enter the labor market and thus compete against American citizens for low-paying jobs. And since the refugees also receive welfare to supplement their earnings, they are willing to work at very low pay. As the IOM states, “The huge global labor market has offered employers the chance to hire migrant workers as part of their cost minimization strategies.” http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/about-migration/lang/en(visited 1/4/11). Perhaps the introduction of 80,000 job seekers into the U.S. labor market can be justified at a time of low unemployment but not now. So for this reason alone the number of refugees, which is set annually by the president, should be drastically reduced.
All in all, our refugee system is not a refugee system. It is an annual flow of 80,000 immigrants, and potential criminals, undertaken to appease the U.N., the international community, and the cheap labor lobby in this country.