5 Reasons The U.S. Refugee Program Serves American Interests

COMMENTARY Global Politics

5 Reasons The U.S. Refugee Program Serves American Interests

Jul 11th, 2017 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Olivia Enos

Policy Analyst

Olivia Enos specializes in human rights and transnational criminal issues.
Mitigating this threat requires the U.S. government to develop a comprehensive assimilation strategy – one that encourages refugees to embrace American values upon resettlement. iStock

Key Takeaways

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) came under a lot of fire this year after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that temporarily suspended it.

While the legal merit of the executive order will be decided by the courts, we should take time to shore up the refugee program and ensure it serves our interests.

Such a policy review should look carefully toward developing best practices for better assimilating refugees.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) came under a lot of fire this year after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that temporarily suspended it.

The Supreme Court has now agreed to settle a legal case challenging the order. In the interim, the court issued a partial stay of a lower court’s order to block the president’s action. While the legal merit of the executive order will be decided by the courts, the U.S. should take this time to shore up the refugee program and ensure that it continues to serve American interests.

A recent Heritage Foundation report highlights five key ways that the program already serves American interests:

#1. USRAP enables the U.S. to assert American leadership in foreign crises. Resettling refugees is one way for the U.S. to exercise global leadership. It demonstrates U.S. engagement to the international community and enhances the persuasiveness of U.S. appeals to other countries to do more to help ameliorate crises.

#2. USRAP provides the U.S. with a way to respond positively to intractable crises. There is little the U.S. can reasonably do about some global conflicts, either because they are beyond solving or it is not sufficiently in U.S. interests to expend the resources required to solve them. Resettling refugees is a small but concrete and useful action the U.S. can take in response to otherwise intractable crises.

#3. USRAP enables the U.S. to assist allies and partners in crisis. Refugee-hosting countries are often fragile, and the challenge of caring for and managing refugees can exacerbate their instability. Some of these countries are also American allies. For example, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan currently host the most Syrian refugees.

Jordan has one of the most pro-U.S. governments in the Middle East, and is part of the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Turkey is a NATO member. Lebanon, a traditional refuge for Middle East Christians, is now harboring thousands of Syrian Christians and battling ISIS and al-Qaeda near its border with Syria.

There are many ways for the U.S. to support refugee-hosting allies. However, given the prominence of refugee resettlement, resettling even small numbers of refugees to the U.S. from such countries sends a message of solidarity and support to important allies.

#4. USRAP strengthens American public diplomacy. The U.S. expends great effort to protect and enhance its reputation as a force for good in the world. Such “soft power” helps it to better influence international events. When properly managed, the refugee resettlement program, U.S. assistance during disasters, properly focused and conditioned foreign aid, and other such efforts can be effective tool of public diplomacy—tools that make the U.S. stronger.

#5. USRAP alleviates human suffering. The U.S. is not obligated to resettle refugees, and cannot solve many of the problems afflicting them. However, refugees are frequently some of the most desperate people on earth, and the U.S. has a long humanitarian tradition of which it should be proud. Providing refugee aid—including accommodating a small number for resettlement—is perfectly in keeping with that tradition.

In light of these interests, there are a number of reforms the U.S. government should consider as they review the USRAP. The Heritage Foundation report notes that, while reforms to the refugee vetting process are welcome, broader U.S. refugee policy reforms should focus on facilitating the assimilation of refugees.

The report found that refugees pose a minimal threat to national security, but could do more to mitigate that threat. Specifically, Heritage researchers found that the most significant Islamist terrorist threat came from the “1.5 generation”—refugees who were small children when they came to the U.S. and became radicalized some years after their arrival here.

Mitigating this threat requires the U.S. government to develop a comprehensive assimilation strategy – one that encourages refugees to embrace American values upon resettlement. Refugees should also seek ways to expedite and enhance their transition into American life. Critically, getting assimilation right means strengthening communities and calling upon civil society, church organizations, and others to love and serve their refugee neighbor.

During the 120 day suspension of the USRAP, the Trump administration should affirm the utility of the refugee program while instituting reforms to ensure that the program continues advancing American interests. Such a policy review should look carefully toward developing best practices for better assimilating refugees.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/oliviaenos/2017/07/10/5-reasons-the-u-s-refugee-program-serves-american-interests/2/#47310738ece4

This piece originally appeared on Forbes.com