Excerpted From: Chasyty L. Escobar, Redefining Refugee Resettlement: Repairing the Cracks in the Pathway to the American Dream, 45 Western New England Law Review 179 (2023) (266 Footnotes) (Full Document)

ChasytyLEscobarA call in the middle of the night awakens a pastor. A young man has just crossed the United States border with his pregnant wife and young child. The family is desperate for a place to stay after their journey across the Rio Grande into the Texas town of Del Rio. Without hesitation, the pastor buys the family plane tickets and moves them into a house. Within a couple of months, the pastor's church is supporting nine Haitians, with their rent, food, and supplies being paid for by the Church's congregation. The cost of resettling in the United States is insurmountable for most and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the journey more difficult.

This insurmountable cost has led to many community service groups filling in the gaps. Community service groups regularly support homeless shelters to collect money, food, toiletries, and clothes for families. So when the pastor reached out to his congregation for extra support for these migrant families, the values and goals of private refugee sponsorship were exemplified through their compassion. As the stories of many migrants demonstrate, the United States has served as a beacon for refugee resettlement based on a culture of stability and success as political turbulence, violence, and natural and economic disasters plague citizens across the world.

The Refugee Act defines “refugee” as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of nationality “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Historically, the United States has led the world in refugee resettlement admissions, but the slow pace of reviving the resettlement system has made it difficult for President Biden to fulfill his pledge to maximize the number of refugees admitted into the United States.

At the beginning of each fiscal year, the President, in consultation with Congress, sets a limit on the number of refugees to be admitted. Accepted refugees are placed into communities based on their family ties, language, housing availability, educational and job opportunities, and the cost of living. Some states have become increasingly vocal about wanting to have more input in the resettlement process due to concerns regarding limited federal funding, haphazard allocation of local resources, and national-security threats.

The American immigration system has become increasingly restrictive when compared to the country's history and the systems of other developed countries. These restrictions are primarily a result of the skewed goals of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) and disparate executive orders resulting from changes in the political ideology of the executive branch. The agencies and organizations involved nationally and globally in resettlement programs face an imbalance of responsibility sharing and resource allocation, which has led to a fragmented, rather than cohesive, system. This fragmentation coupled with the refugee crisis has led to varied, complex needs that must be addressed now.

The integration of ethnic-based community-led sponsorship, along with stable funding among crucial resettlement agencies, will help alleviate the refugee crisis in a timely and efficient manner. The communal willingness to aid others during a time of crisis acknowledges the unquantifiable ways in which refugees contribute to cultural and ethnic diversity.

This Note will argue for the expansion of ethnic-based, community-led resettlement to bolster private refugee sponsorship without undermining the current infrastructure of the resettlement approach. This Note will further argue that the funding structure of the Reception and Placement Program (“R&P”) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (“ORR”) must be modified to allow for congressionally funded contingency accounts.

Part I details the history of refugee resettlement in the United States, then discusses the agencies and organizations involved in granting a refugee placement into the country under the Refugee Act of 1980. It also highlights previous attempts at implementing a successful private sponsorship program under former President Reagan and identifies concerns that need to be addressed in a remodeling of the resettlement structure.

Part II dives into the issues the United States faces under its current refugee resettlement approach, highlighting how politics detracts from resettlement goals and leads to unilateral control on refugee admissions. It then explores the success of the Canadian refugee resettlement program with a focus on methods that the United States can adapt to address the evolving needs of refugees. Finally, it addresses the aggravation of structural issues within the resettlement program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part III presents solutions to strengthen the current resettlement approach and argues that ethnic-based community-led resettlement and a modification of the funding structure of the ORR is necessary to advance the foundational goals of resettlement. Part IV addresses counterarguments to expanding the current refugee resettlement program.

The growing number of refugees in crisis must inspire reform. Many challenges confront the refugee resettlement program. An exploration of future opportunities to strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of the current approach will assist in providing meaningful relief to refugees in need.

[. . .]

Refugee resettlement is the most secure form of protection a country can offer a refugee as it offers permanent residency, security, and a path to citizenship. This Note has argued that ethnic-based community-led resettlement is a local solution to a global crisis that harnesses the power of communities to assist and advocate for refugees. Successful integration and independence is heightened with the support of communities. The mutual benefits for refugees and communities provides satisfaction for all involved. In order to maximize the work of resettlement agencies and local communities, financial resources should be secured by a Congressionally funded contingency account. The United States has set tremendous goals for itself as it looks to the future of refugee resettlement, and it must prioritize the needs of refugees first and foremost to succeed.

J.D., Western New England University School of Law (2023); B.A. Boston University, 2019.