Is the U.S. Refugee admission program sustainable?

Photo by Flickr user Britt Selvitelle

The U.S. sense of humanity and compassion towards persecuted citizens from other countries of the world, specifically refugees, has gone down in history as one of the prestigious attributes every American will continue to be proud of domestically and globally.

But the trend of emigration movements towards the U.S. and the current social and economic context of America is prompting every mindful analyst to question the ability of the U.S. to continue admitting and effectively assisting refugees in the future.

This article has no intent to implicitly or explicitly criticize America’s good will as seen in the refugee admission and resettlement program, nor does it attempt to indict the moral purpose the program carries with it. Instead, in light of current U.S. social, political, and economic conditions, this article attempts to examine the sustainability of the program in light of the conditions mentioned above.

The U.S. accepts refugees since 1948 under the Displaced Persons Act, which enabled the admission of 250 European refugees to the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of State Population Migration (DSPM), since 1975, there were in the U.S. 3 million refugees. The Refugee Health Technical Science Center indicated that from 1999-2009 the U.S. welcomed each year between 70,000 to 91,000 refugees. Data collected from the Congressional Research Center (CRS), from 2001 to 2015, the United Stated admitted 828,923 refugees from all over the world.

A quick reckoning of all combined years suggests that from 1948 to now the U.S. has resettled roughly more than 5 million refugees to its territory. In other words, since 1948, the United States has already resettled the entire population of current-day Norway or Central African Republic to its territory. If the current trend of refugee admission stays the way it is, by the end of every 20 years, the U.S. will resettle to its territory the current Ivory Coast or Romania in population terms.

With the current ceiling of 70,000 refugee admissions every year, the economic constraints of a nation which is already at a 18 trillion national debt, the fast shrinking geographic space caused by the U.S. population explosion (internal birth growth, legal and illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees), the U.S. does not exhibit enough means to materialize its humanitarian policy towards refugees and expect their vital impact on the economy of the country.

Looking ahead, the weak financial means confronted with the imperativeness of spending cut on one hand, and the obligation on the other hand to fund refugee related programs such as transitional cash, medical services, treatment for the victims of torture, preventive health, targeted assistance, care to unaccompanied children, and social services do not enable the sustainability of the refugee admission program.

In addition, the permanent arrival every five years of over 5 million refugees in a geographic space that remains static might open the country to a future ecologic crisis of which the social and economic challenges will be another daunting test for the U.S. in days ahead.

It is time for the U.S. and the international community to begin thinking about formulating new strategies and international policies that aim at promoting people’s humanitarian needs, security and peace in their home countries than in host nations.

This new international order should engage countries in a legally binding commitment to promote and protect democratic values and universal human rights in order to avert the possibility of uprisings, political crises, and armed conflicts, which are the causes of mass displacements, exoduses, and emigration.     

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