RELEASE: New CAP Report Recommends How To Rebuild the Refugee Program for the 21st Century

Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress gives recommendations to rebuild the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) to make it more resilient, expand it in upcoming years, and provide resettled refugees with the resources to help them succeed. Since the Trump administration took office, it slashed the annual refugee admission ceiling every year and is now proposing a ceiling of 15,000 for fiscal year 2021—a record low in the program’s history. The low admission numbers have had devastating impacts on the U.S. refugee resettlement infrastructure as well as the global refugee population.

The authors interviewed 31 refugee resettlement experts from May through August 2020, and the result of this research presents policy recommendations to policymakers and stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels to help rebuild the system, based on five key principles:

  1. Think beyond a federal model. The program should find additional avenues for resettlement. Agencies should include more community groups in the resettlement process to build back the direct connection that the program used to have with the local community. A strong community sponsorship program with proper oversight has the potential to expedite integration of refugees, raise public awareness, and help expand the program.
  2. Bring stability to the refugee program to make it more resilient. While the refugee program once enjoyed strong bipartisan support—even when the issue of immigration more broadly was politically contentious—in recent years, it has become politicized, much like the other immigration issues. Reforms are needed to stabilize annual refugee flows so that these numbers are independent of changes in administration.
  3. Prioritize refugee integration along with self-sufficiency. As the United States rebuilds its refugee resettlement system in the coming years, integration of refugees should be one of the top priorities, along with achieving self-sufficiency at every agency level.
  4. Raise awareness about the program to build meaningful support among the public and policymakers. Building strong community support for the refugee program and raising awareness among policymakers should be among the goals for both governmental and nongovernmental agencies involved in resettlement. The negative rhetoric among policymakers and the general public against refugees had been slowly gaining ground in the past two decades.
  5. Engage all stakeholders in the rebuilding process. Stakeholders must be involved in the rebuilding process so that agencies and others affected by the program have a say on how to rebuild it.

“When we get an opportunity to rebuild the USRAP, we should modernize it and build a system that is more resilient than it has ever been,” said Silva Mathema, associate director for policy on the Immigration Policy team at CAP and co-author of the report. “Some of the ideas in this report reinforce practices already in place, and others call for a radical change in the program. If we follow them, we should emerge from this low point as a nation that is ready to be a beacon of hope for thousands of refugees worldwide once again.”

“Policymakers and stakeholders should turn to the lessons learned from rebuilding in the post-9/11 era, when refugee arrivals also plummeted and the program’s infrastructure suffered as a result,” said Sofia Carratala, special assistant for Immigration Policy at CAP and co-author of the report. “As a baseline, the next administration must model a strong political will to rebuild resettlement by raising the ceiling for refugee arrivals, and federal agencies must work with resettlement organizations to provide supplemental funding necessary to maintain basic operations. These measures have proved vital in supporting earlier rebuilding phases.”

Read the report: “Rebuilding the U.S. Refugee Program for the 21st Century: A New Vision To Create a More Resilient Refugee Program” by Silva Mathema and Sofia Carratala

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For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at .