JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – A highly debated and controversial topic state leaders across the U.S., as well as leadership around the world, are facing is that of Syrian refugees escaping civil war and where they should seek asylum.
This week, Tennesse Gov. Bill Haslam asked the federal government to suspend placements of Syrian refugees in Tennessee until states can become more of a partner in the vetting process.
We are currently working to get specifics from the U.S. Department of State on the status of any Syrian refugees currently slated to come to Tennessee,” Haslam said a news release. “While screening, acceptance and placement is legally under the authority of the federal government, they have said in the past they would be open to cooperating with receiving states.”
But some leaders from other states, including Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, announced their support in accepting refugees from Syria.
Gov. Cuomo told the Associated Press that “we have to protect American and not lose our soul as America in the process, right? The day America says, ‘Close the gates, build the wall,’ then I say take down the Statue of Liberty because you’ve gone to a different place. I won’t let them win by conceding defeat of the American Dream.”
According to numbers cited on the American Immigration Council’s refugee fact sheet, there were an estimated 14.4 million refugees at the end of 2014 and 2015 statistics showed there are over 4.2 million Syrian refugees.
Countries with high numbers of refugees in 2013 included Afghanistan with 2.6 million, Syria with 2.5 million, Somalia with 1.1 million, Sudan with 650,000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 499,600 and Myanmar with 480,000.
A graph on AIC’s website shows refugee ceilings set by the president and the Congress each year for fiscal years 2009 to 2015. The graph also shows the total number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 2009-2015.
From 2009 to 2011, the refugee ceiling was set at 80,000, but for the last three years the ceiling was set at 70,000.
From 2013 to 2015, the total number of refugees admitted to the U.S. was around the 70,000 ceiling.
The proposed ceiling for the 2016 fiscal year is 85,000 and the Obama administration has recently announced plans to bring an additional 10,000 Syrians into the U.S.
In 2015, 35.1 percent of refugee arrivals came from Near East/South Asia regions, which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan and Afghanistan, 32.1 percent came from Africa and 26.4 percent came from East Asia, which includes China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
So what happens with refugees trying to settle in the U.S.?
According to the AIC website, refugees are classified into three categories — Priority One, Priority Two and Priority Three – based on their need and reasons for relocating.
Priority One would include people escaping persecution, Priority Two for groups of special concern designated by the Department of State with input from USCIS, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs, and Priority Three includes the relatives of refugees who have already settled in the U.S.
According to AIC, the Refugee Admission Program is run by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services and offices within the Department of Homeland Security.
Before admission to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). To qualify, individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled in any other country. Not everyone who falls into the three preceding categories is admitted to the United States” – AIC’s fact sheet
Refugees trying to enter the U.S. are required to prove their case of “well-founded fear” and refugees can be excluded from settlement for health-related, moral/criminal and security grounds, as well as for polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling and prior deportations.
What happens after a refugee has been conditionally accepted for resettlement?
- A request is sent for assurance of placement to the U.S.
- The Refugee Processing Center works with private voluntary agencies to determine where the refugee will live. Refugees with relatives already in the U.S. will try to be placed with them.
- Individual must pass a medical examination, as well as security checks
According to the Department of State, the resettlement process can take an average of 18 to 24 months.
Once those steps are completed, Resettlement Support Centers work with International Organization for Migration to set travel arrangements for refugees to come to the U.S
According to AIC, refugees must sign a promissory note to repay the U.S. for travel costs, which they must start paying back after six months of being in the U.S.
Private voluntary agencies then arrange for the pick-up of refugees at the airport and travel to the their housing and final destination.
After entering the U.S., the voluntary agencies are responsible for making sure refugees are provided with food, housing, clothing, employment counseling, medical care and other necessities during their first 90 days in the country.
According to the AIC fact sheet, a refugee can apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status after one year of being in the U.S. and may petition for naturalization after five years.
Refugees are also expected to be employed after six months of being in the U.S.
In 2014, new arrival refugees were placed in 46 states, with California, Michigan, Texas, Illinois and Arizona accepting the highest numbers.
- California- 3,068
- Michigan- 2,753
- Texas- 2,462
- Illinois- 1,064
- Arizona- 973
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