U.S. Resettlement of Refugees and Recent Afghan Evacuees

The U.S. currently is engaged in resettling in this country refugees from around the world under previously established international refugee resettlement processes as well as recent Afghan evacuees under newly modified processes for Afghans.

Here is a summary of the legal requirements and administrative procedures for these important developments.

U.S. Resettlement of Refugees

  1. International Legal Protection of Refuges[1]

In 1951 an international conference of diplomats adopted an international treaty to protect refugees (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).

This treaty went into effect or force in April 1954 after its ratification by six states. However, the U.S. did not directly ratify this treaty, but did so indirectly in 1968 when under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson the U.S. ratified a treaty amendment (Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees).

The U.S., however, did not adopt implementing legislation until 1980, when President Jimmy Carter led the adoption of the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, which included the treaty’s following definition of “refugee” (with U.S. express addition for “past” persecution):

  • “ (A)ny person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of [past] persecution or a well-founded fear of [future] persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.. . . ”

As of January 20, 2020, there were 146 parties to the Convention and 147 to the Protocol.

  1. International Resettlement of Refugees[2]

After international cooperation on resettlement of specific groups of refugees, 1956-1995, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1995 organized the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement for the UNHCR, nation states and civil society. By the end of 2019, these consultations had established a global resettlement policy and procedures to attempt to provide locations for such resettlement that can provide the services that refugees need. These procedures have resulted in resettlement of over 1 million refugees: 90 percent of whom came from Myanmar, Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia and were resettled in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

At the end of 2019, the UNHCR estimated there were 26 million refugees in the world, about one half of whom are under the age of 18. This group is part of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world (the other 53.5 million are forcibly displaced within their own countries and thus not entitled to refugee status).

  1. U.S. Resettlement of Refugees[3]

The U.S. has participated in this international resettlement program under the overall direction of the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

Under U.S. law the U.S. President establishes annual quotas for such resettlements. The largest such quota was 200,000 in 1980 when President Carter led the U.S. adoption of the Refugee Act of 1980. In 1999 under President Clinton the quota was 132,631, and in 2016 under President Obama it was 84,994.

For Fiscal 2019 President Trump reduced the number of refugees for resettlement in U.S. to 15,000 and required cities and counties to file written affirmative consents for such resettlements with the State Department, but a federal court held that requirement was illegal. Nevertheless, many states, including Minnesota, granted such consents along with statements about the many contributions by refugees to their states.

President Biden initially said he would maintain the 15,000 quota set by Trump for this fiscal year, but after strong objections by influential Senators and others, the White House on May 3, 2021, stated the it was revising the quota to 62,500 for this fiscal year although it was unlikely that it would meet that number by that year’s end on 9/30/21. President Biden also said that he intends to increase the quota for the next fiscal year to 125,000.

  1. Refugee Resettlement in Minnesota [4]

From 2005 through 2019 the State of Minnesota had resettled 33,189 refugees. The largest numbers came from Somalia (13,674), Burma (8,604), Ethiopia (2,194), Laos (2,042), Iraq (1,290), Bhutan (1,188) and Liberia (1,171).

For Fiscal 2021 (ending 9/30/21), Minnesota had a resettlement goal of 500, but as of 5/12/21 had received only 30. They came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ukraine and Republic of Moldova (Eastern European county and former part of USSR). Because of COVID-19, the goal of 500 probably will not be met.

For Fiscal 2022 (before the evacuation of Afghans), Minnesota expected to have a resettlement goal of 1,900 given President Biden’s stated intent to increase the national total to 125,000.

Such resettlements are coordinated by refugee resettlement agencies in the State: Minnesota Council of Churches (Refugee Services), International Institute of Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota and Arrive Ministries.

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, where this blogger is a member, is launching its Refugee Co-Sponsorship Team of six to twelve individuals under the leadership of three “champions” with guidance of the Minnesota Council of Churches and anticipates receiving its first refugee family this October.

Our Team’s commitment is for four to six months starting with setting up an apartment selected by the Council with furnishings that it and our Team provides; welcoming the family on their arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and transporting them to their apartment;  helping the family’s orientation to their new neighborhood, city and services; transporting them to various meetings and shopping; assisting school registration for any children and adult ESL enrollment; providing information about various public services and obligations; and helping them find employment. In short, being friends to our new residents. The co-sponsorship ends with a closing ceremony, transitioning the relationship to mutual friendship, rather than a continued helping relationship. [5]

U.S. Resettlement of Recent Afghan Evacuees.

The recent turmoil in Afghanistan has resulted  in the U.S. evacuation from that country of approximately 130,000 people (124,000 Afghans and 6,000 U.S. citizens).

Many of the Afghan allies with U.S. special immigrant visa applications and their families who recently escaped Afghanistan were flown from Kabul to Washington, D.C. for their subsequent transfer to U.S. forts in Virginia (Fort Lee),Texas (Fort Bliss) and western Wisconsin (Fort McCoy, which is about 169 miles southeast of Minneapolis). Others were flown to U.S. military bases in other countries for processing and hoped-for transfers to the U.S.[6]

This summary is based upon the cited sources with recognition that this is a very complex and changing situation and readers’ corrections and amplifications are most welcome.

  1. Legal Status of Afghan Evacuees[7]

Most, if not all, of these Afghans have not been through the previously described procedures for resettlement of refugees and have not been determined to meet the requirements for refugee status. (Some articles erroneously refer to them as “Afghan refugees.”)

Instead, they are being vetted by U.S. agencies for meeting the following requirements for Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (“SIVs”):

  • employment in Afghanistan for at least one year between October 7, 2001, and December 31, 2023, by or on behalf of the U.S. government or by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or a successor mission in a capacity that required the applicant to serve as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel while traveling off-base with U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF or to perform activities for U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF; and
  • Have experienced or be experiencing an ongoing threat as a consequence of their employment.

Alternatively some Afghans might be eligible for Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program access for Afghans and their eligible family members by satisfying one of the following conditions:

  • “Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for a SIV but who work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators for the U.S. government, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOXRX-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support;”
  • “Afghans who work or worked for a U.S. government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. government grant or cooperative agreement;” or
  • “Afghans who are or were employed in Afghistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization.”

Afghans also could be eligible for “the Priority (P-1) program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement who are referred to the P-1 program . . .  by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. embassy, or a designated NGO.”

However, an Associated Press reporter claims that “the majority will arrive without visas as ‘humanitarian parolees,’ lacking a path to legal U.S. residency and the benefits and services offered to traditional refugees, according to U.S. officials and worried aid groups working closely with the government.” Instead, “Afghan parolees who have arrived at U.S. military bases will be eligible for an ad hoc State Department program that provides limited assistance for up to 90 days, including a one-time $1,250 stipend. But they will not have the full range of medical, counseling and resettlement services available to immigrants who arrive through the U.S. refugee program.”

  1. U.S. Administrative Agencies Involved in “Operation Allies Welcome[8]

On August 19, 56 Senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Biden calling for “the urgent evacuation of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families, as well as the full and immediate implementation of [the above legislation] to expand the Afghan SIV program and streamline the application process.”

That message was in accord with the Biden Administration’s desires. On August 29, President Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security to be the lead agency coordinating this resettlement effort and that agency’s Secretary (Alejandro N. Mayorkas) simultaneously appointed Robert J. Fenton, Jr. with 29 years of experience in FEMA large-scale response and recovery efforts to lead the interagency Unified Coordination Group in this effort. He will be working with Jack Markell, a former Delaware Governor and now the White House’s coordinator of “Operation Allies Welcome.”

  1. Resettlement of Afghan Evacuees in U.S. [9]

Operation Allies Welcome is asking the nonprofit organizations that have contracted with the U.S. State Department for resettlement of refugees to also handle the resettlement of the Afghan evacuees. This task is made much more difficult by last year’s shrinkage of these agencies caused by President Trump’s reduction of the quota for such resettlement to 15,000 and the associated reduction of federal financial support for same and by the size and unresolved issues about the Afghan evacuees.

  1. Societal Reactions to Afghan Resettlement [10]

There are general reports about positive reactions to such resettlement from U.S. citizens and organizations.

The State of Minnesota did so in an August 19, 2021, letter to President Biden from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. It stated that Minnesota “in the past . . . has stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home” while acknowledging, “New Minnesotans strengthen our communities and contribute to the social fabric of our state. They are our neighbors.” Therefore, “we [in Minnesota] stand ready to work with you and your administration to welcome [Afghan] families as this effort to provide safety and refuge continues.”

Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has voiced a similar opinion by offering her office’s assistance to American citizens and Afghan allies looking to evacuate that country and by signing a bipartisan letter to the President urging support for evacuation efforts.

In addition, Temple Israel of Minneapolis is embarking on a program to help some of these Afghans to resettle in Minnesota and has enlisted Westminster Presbyterian Church as a co-sponsor for such resettlements. The Temple’s program probably springs from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) as well as a continuous Jewish presence in the territory of Afghanistan from the 8th century CE until the 20th century.[11]

Conclusion[12]

Westminster’s involvement with immigrants is not new in our 160 years. Indeed, the church was established in 1857 by Scottish and Welsh newcomers on land that had been home to the Dakota people for many generations. In 1870 we established our first global mission partnership after our third pastor had visited China and in the 1880s began a formal ministry teaching English and providing support to Chinese immigrants that continued in the 20th century.

Our church also has partnerships with Protestant churches in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine.

These Westminster ministries are inspired by various Biblical passages.

The book of Leviticus says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. You shall love the sojourner as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34.) (The Hebrew word for “alien” is “ger,”which means stranger in the land, one who sojourns among you.)

Jesus, of course, told stories about heroes who are disliked foreigners, like the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) , or when He welcomes those whom others shun as outsiders, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 1-26) and when He ignores the then current mandate no to pay attention to people living with leprosy or other illnesses (Matthew 8: 1-3).  As our Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen said in his recent sermon, “As Christians, our core conviction insists on hospitality to those deemed other by the world around us—and anyone else known to be the most vulnerable in the community.”

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[1] UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of RefugeesRefugee Act of 1980; Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Wikipedia; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: LAW (REFUGEE & Asylum).

[2]  UNHCR, The History of Resettlement (2019).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, About Refugee AdmissionsU.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugee Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020); U.S. State Dep’t, Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Oct. 22, 2020); U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct.  2, 2020); U.S. State Dep’t, Report to Congress on the Proposed Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Feb. 12, 2021); Joe Biden Raises Trump refugee cap  after backlash, BBC News (May 4, 2021);UNHCR, UNHCR applauds US decision to increase refugee resettlement (May 3, 2001). Minnesota Council of Churches, Refugee Services.

[5]  Minnesota Council of Churches, Refugee Services; Minnesota Council of Churches, Help Afghan Refugees (Aug. 30, 2021); Campbell, Schulze & Krohnke, Our Refugee Family Co-Sponsorship: An Invitation to Love the Sojourner Among Us, Westminster News (Sept. 2021).

[6] U.S. Defense Dep’t, U.S. Seeks to Open More Locations to Aid Evacuation From Kabul, General Says, DOD News (Aug. 21, 2021); Assoc. Press, Afghan refugees arrive, temporarily, in northern Virginia, Wash. Post (Aug. 22, 2021); Assoc. Press, Afghan refugees begin arriving at Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2021); Musa, The United States Needs an Afghan Refugee Resettlement Act, Foreign Policy (Aug. 19, 2021), ; Baghdassarian & Carney, Special Immigrant Visas for the United States’ Afghan Allies, Lessons Learned from Promises Kept and Broken, Lawfare (Aug. 19, 2021),

[7] State Dep’t, Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans—Who Were Employed by/on behalf of the U.S. Government; State Dep’t, U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority Designation 2 for Afghan Nationals (Aug. 2, 2021); Press Release, BREAKING: Senate Passes Shaheen-Ernst Bill to Protect Afghan Allies through SIV Program as Part of Supplemental Spending Bill (July 29, 2021); Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, Public Law 117-331, enacted on July 30, 2021; Assoc. Press, For Afghan evacuees arriving to U.S., a tenuous legal status and little financial support, Wash. Post (Sept. 1, 2021).

[8] Shaheen, Ernst Lead Bipartisan Effort Urging the Administration on Immediate Evacuation & Full Implementation of their SIV Legislation Aug. 19, 2021). Homeland Security Dep’t, DHS to Serve as Lead Federal Agency Coordinating Efforts to Resettle Vulnerable Afghans, (Aug. 29, 2021); Sacchetti, Miroff & Demirjian, Biden names former Delaware governor Jack Markell to serve as point person on Afghan resettlement in the United States, Wash. Post (Sept. 3, 2021).

[9] U.S. Refugee Organizations Race to Prepare for Influx of Afghans, W.S.J. (Aug. 31, 2021). Hackman, Afghan Refugees in the U.S.: How They’re Vetted, Where They Are going and How to Help, W.S.J. (Sept. 3, 2021). Assoc. Press, US faith groups unite to help Afghan refugees after war, StarTribune (Sept. 2, 2021).

[10] Office of Governor Walz & Lt. Governor Flanagan, Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan: Minnesota Stands ready to Welcome Afghan Refugee Families (Aug. 19, 2021); Assoc. Press, Walz extends Minnesota’s welcome mat to Afghan refugees (StarTribune (Aug. 20, 2021). News Release, Klobuchar Announces Office Assistance for Americans and Afghan Allies Evacuating Afghanistan (Aug. 18, 2021).

[11] HIAS Statement on Afghanistan Crisis (Aug. 16, 2021); History of the Jews in Afghanistan, Wikipedia; Oreck, Afghanistan Virtual Jewish History Tour, Jewish Virtual Library; The Jews of Afghanistan, Museum of the Jewish People.  Westminster’s Response to Crisis in Afghanistan (Aug. 8, 2021).

[12] Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen & Rev. David Tsai Shinn, Sermon: Concerning the Sojourner (June 20, 2021). Westminster Presbyterian Church, Global Partners Ministry Team.

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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