The Catholic News Service (“CNS”) reports that refugee admissions for FY 2011 have slowed dramatically due to new security measures put into place by the Department of Homeland Security. The slow down effects not just the refugees–often times waiting in camps where they face disease and other dangers–but also the capacity of the resettlement agencies, which receive funding based on the number of people resettled.
For Fiscal Year 2011, President Obama has authorized the admission of up to 80,000 refugees. However, according to CNS, as of mid-May (7 1/2 months into the fiscal year), only 38% of the 80,000 have been admitted. This puts us on track to admit only about 49,000 refugees for the current fiscal year. CNS reports:
Delays in the refugee resettlement process are being caused by a backlog of security clearances and additional security “holds,” according to Larry Bartlett, acting director of the Office of Refugee Admissions for the State Department. The additional security measures are part of a larger series of security enhancements by the Homeland Security Department.
These delays have several effects. For one, refugees are forced to endure longer waits in camps, and families remain separated for longer periods. Further, some refugees who have already been screened and cleared are now stuck waiting for the new security checks. During this waiting period, certain of the clearances may expire, and the refugees will need to be cleared again–resulting in even more delays.
In addition, the receiving agencies in the U.S. receive $700.00 for each refugee resettled. The agencies are paid only when they actually receive the refugee. This means that agencies’ revenues are down, and this could affect their capacity (for example, if an agency is forced to lay off workers, it may not be prepared if additional refugees arrive).
A State Department spokesman stated that refugee admissions would increase during the remainder of the fiscal year, and that DOS expected to resettle between 63,000 and 74,000 refugees in FY 2011.
Of course, it is difficult to argue against additional security background checks, especially when it is unclear what those checks entail or why they have been put into place. Further, for agencies in the business of resettlement, it seems only fair that they must adjust to the policy changes of the U.S. government. That said, it is difficult for me not to be a bit skeptical about the new background checks. Hopefully, though, once the new system is up and running, refugee admissions will return to normal levels, so we can fulfill our commitment to assisting people in dire need and keep our country safe.