Recently a number of religious groups—including some connected to the World Council of Churches and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—have urged the U.S. government to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees this coming fiscal year, in addition to increasing the total U.S. resettlement commitment to 100,000 refugees from other parts of the world.
Although President Obama has not agreed to increase the amount nearly that much, last week he ordered his administration to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States in the coming year, directing his team to prepare for at least 10,000 in the next fiscal year.
How does the federal government decide how many refugees to let into the U.S. and from which countries? Here is the answer to those questions and other facts you should know about refugees and resettlement policy in America:
1. The first refugee legislation in the United Stateswas the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which brought 400,000 Eastern Europeans to the U.S. Other refugee-related legislation included the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 (which brought in 214,000 refugees fleeing communism) and the Fair Share Refugee Act of 1960 (which mostly brought those still living in displaced persons camps after World War II). The U.S. government also used the Attorney General’s humanitarian parole authority to bring refugees into the country, beginning in 1956 with Hungarian nationals and ending with hundreds of thousands of Indochinese refugees in the 1970s.
2. The number of refugees admitted into the U.S. each year is decided by the President. Before the beginning of each fiscal year, the President, in consultation with Congress, establishes an overall refugee admissions ceilingas well as regional allocations. The total number of refugees authorized for admission in 2013 was 70,000. The largest regional allocation was to the Near East/South Asia region, which accounted for 46 percent of the authorized admissions number to continue accommodating refugee arrivals from Iraq, Iran, and Bhutan.
3. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than3 million refugees, with nearly 77 percent being either Indochinese or citizens of the former Soviet Union. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, annual admissions figures have ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980, to a low of 27,100 in 2002. In 2013, theleading countries of nationality for refugee admissions were Iraq (28 percent), Burma (23 percent), Bhutan (13 percent), and Somalia (11 percent). Seventy-five percent of refugee admissions in 2013 were from these four countries. Other leading countries included Cuba (6.0 percent), Iran (3.7 percent), Democratic Republic of Congo (3.7 percent), and Sudan (3.1 percent).
4. In 2013, the leading countries of nationalityfor refugee admissions were Iraq (28 percent), Burma (23 percent), Bhutan (13 percent), and Somalia (11 percent). Seventy-five percent of refugee admissions in 2013 were from these four countries. Other leading countries included Cuba (6.0 percent), Iran (3.7 percent), Democratic Republic of Congo (3.7 percent), and Sudan (3.1 percent).
5. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the federal government agency charged with providing benefits and services to assist the resettlement and local integration of refugee populations. Some of the ORR programs include Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance (for up to 8 months); Refugee Social Services, such as job and language training (for up to 5 years); and temporary custody and care to unaccompanied refugee children.