U.S. Resettlement Of Refugees Varies From Europe's Model

Nov 23, 2015
Originally published on November 23, 2015 10:49 am
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, the attacks in Paris intensified the debate in this country over accepting refugees. Most governors have said they do not want Syrian refugees resettled in their states. President Obama and his supporters have said all refugees go through a rigorous screening process. Refugees also get help in resettling in the United States. It's a process much less chaotic than in Europe, which has been overwhelmed with refugees from the Mid-East and elsewhere. To get a picture of the American process, NPR's Joel Rose spent time with a refugee family now in New Jersey.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: By definition, refugees are coming from some of the most troubled countries on earth. They usually touch down in the U.S. in a place they have never seen before in their lives, a place like Jersey City, N. J.

TARIQ ZAFAR: Come in. Come in.

ROSE: Tariq Zafar (ph) invites us into his new home, a first-floor apartment in a diverse working-class neighborhood. It's five miles from the Statue of Liberty and about 7,000 miles from Pakistan, where he was born. I'm here with his case manager from the resettlement agency Church World Service. She hands Zafar her business card.

ZAFAR: Bethany Schmidt (ph).

BETHANY SCHMIDT: Yeah, Bethany Schmidt. You can just call me Bethany.

ZAFAR: OK, Bethany.

SCHMIDT: (Laughter) Yeah.

ROSE: Zafar has a wife and two young kids. He is an Ahmadiyya Muslim, a minority sect. Zafar says he was persecuted in Pakistan. He fled and spent the last five years in Hong Kong, waiting to be admitted to the U.S. as a refugee.

ZAFAR: This time, I am an American - don't have any other country. I don't like India and Pakistan. I salute to America because America has a very big heart for migrants.

ROSE: The U.S. is on pace to take in about 85,000 refugees from around the world this year. Like the Zafar family, they all arrived after years of vetting. First, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees identifies the most vulnerable. Then U.S. authorities, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, conduct their own screening, which takes another year or two. Finally, there's a weekly meeting between the State Department and the nine major resettlement groups in the U.S. to decide where the refugees will end up.

DAVID MILIBAND: They try to find some community compatibility. And they try and make common sense decisions.

ROSE: David Miliband is president of the International Rescue Committee in New York. He says the final destination can depend on whether the refugee has family or friends in the U.S. or if one resettlement agency has more experience with a specific language or community.

MILIBAND: They look to make sure that the key things are done for people, which is to get them housing, teach them English, give them a chance to get on the job market and get on the path to citizenship.

ROSE: The federal government gives local resettlement agencies grants to help get refugees on their feet and provides financial assistance for up to eight months.

SCHMIDT: Has someone told you this is the most important document you have?

ZAFAR: Yeah.

SCHMIDT: OK (laughter) good.

ROSE: But it's the resettlement agencies, like Church World Service, that help the refugees navigate their new country. Mahmoud Mahmoud runs the CWS office in Jersey City.

MAHMOUD MAHMOUD: We find them an apartment. We move the furniture into the apartment. We provide groceries and put it into their refrigerator for the first couple of days. We enroll their children into schools. We pick them up from the airport and bring them into the apartment.

ROSE: Mahmoud says his office has also helped resettle four Syrian families so far. His state's governor, Chris Christie, is one of 30 governors who've said they are opposed to placing Syrian refugees in their states following the attacks in Paris. Here's Christie last week on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW")

CHRIS CHRISTIE: I do not trust this administration to effectively vet the people who are proposed to be coming in.

ROSE: But the State Department says that out of more than 700,000 refugees admitted to the country since September 11, 2001, only a handful have been arrested because of terrorism concerns. David Miliband at the IRC says the screening process is working.

MILIBAND: I hope that in the cold light of day, elected officials around the country will see that there is a process in place. It involves checks even once people are here.

ROSE: Legal experts say governors don't really have the right to block refugee resettlement because it's governed by federal law. But state and local officials can make the process harder, for example, blocking funds intended for English classes. For now, Mahmoud Mahmoud, at the Church World Service in Jersey City, says nothing has changed.

MAHMOUD: I have these arrivals. And I'm so inundated with planning for these arrivals. It's just business as usual.

ROSE: Mahmoud says another group of Syrians is scheduled to arrive in New Jersey at the end of the month. And his office is planning to welcome them too. Joel Rose, NPR News, Jersey City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.