Immigration Expert: U.S. Should End ‘Total Reliance’ on U.N. for Refugee Vetting

Penny Starr | February 2, 2017 | 3:12pm EST
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Syrian refugees waited at the port of Lesbos island, Greece, to board a ferry traveling to Athens. (AP Photo)

( – A researcher with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) said that while it is not widely reported when debating the vetting of refugees entering the United States, it’s the United Nations that controls most of the vetting process – a practice of “total reliance” on that global organization that should end.

“The United States needs to revise its total reliance on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugee determination, assistance, and resettlement referrals,” Nayla Rush, senior researcher at CIS, said in a report on the agency.

“The United States chooses the refugees it resettles solely based on referrals from UNHCR,” Rush said. “It entrusts this UN agency staff with the entire selection and pre-screening process of refugees eligible for resettlement in the United States.”

Moreover, Rush said that the actual vetting process at the U.N. is not transparent, nor can it eliminate security risks if resettlement does not include integration into the new culture.

“We know very little about this selection process except that it is based on a benefit-of-the-doubt policy and can be somewhat subjective,” Rush said. “We also don’t know much about UNHCR's employees, the men and women the U.S. government believes possess the good judgment and expertise needed to make refugee determinations and resettlement referrals.

“Even if refugees themselves were to pose no threat, the risk could come later on as terrorist groups prey on vulnerable communities and recruit young people who feel somewhat estranged in their host country,” Rush said in a report on UNHCR. “Americans witnessed this past November a tragic example of such risks when a young Somali refugee drove his car into a group of students at Ohio State University and then started stabbing people. 

“The initial screening of this Somali family was not necessarily flawed; if U.S. officials found nothing, it was probably because there was nothing to find,” Rush said. “Radicalization came later for one of them.”

Rush also said she believes the current arrangement with the U.N. allows the organization to wield a great deal of power in shaping the U.S. population and future citizens.

“UNHCR is deciding not only who can move to the United States, it is also choosing who ultimately gets a chance to become American and who doesn't,” Rush said. “Given the large stakes: access to U.S. citizenship and possible security threats, this blind trust must be revisited,” Rush said.

In her reporting on UNHCR, Rush explains the challenges the agency faces and of U.S. reliance on it.

• According to the UN refugee agency, the projected number of refugees in need of resettlement in 2017 is calculated at 1,190,519. This forecast is 72 percent higher than 2014’s projected needs of 691,000 persons. Since then, the large-scale resettlement of Syrian refugees was set in motion.

• In 2017, Syrians will account for 40 percent of the 1.19 million refugees that UNHCR says will be in need of resettlement. Other major refugee groups are as follows: Sudan (11 percent), Afghanistan (10 percent), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (9 percent).

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to put a temporary ban on immigrants coming into the U.S. from seven nation states with ties to terrorism. It also halted all immigration from Syria indefinitely.

The order calls for prioritizing religious minority refugees who are facing persecution in their home country.

“It is time the United States reconsiders, not its commitment and humanitarian call to helping refugees, but the manner and the means by which this help is implemented,” Rush said. “The Trump administration does not need to put a permanent halt to the refugee resettlement program.

“What it can do is refuse to play God by picking a ‘lucky few’ out of millions who are undergoing common hardships,” Rush said. “It can instead focus its efforts toward empowering millions of refugees close to their home, and working on ending conflicts to secure their safe return.

“It can also provide better and longer help to those who have no choice but to be resettled here, making sure successful integration is achieved and wounds (mental and physical) are fully healed,” Rush said.

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