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Learning from Our Past: The Refugee Experience in the United States

Today there is much public discussion, both in the United States and abroad, about the worldwide refugee crisis. In recent years, the United States has welcomed 70,000 refugees per year. The President has indicated he intends to admit 85,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2016, including 10,000 from Syria, an increase which has been criticized by some lawmakers and politicians. In considering the appropriate U.S. response to the refugee crisis, it is important to remember the central role of refugees in the American experience. This Perspective provides background on the refugee experience in the United States, including welcoming and exclusionary responses, the impacts of these disparate reactions, and lessons to consider in determining our response to the current refugee crisis.


Published On: Wed, Nov 25, 2015 | Download File

An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy

The United States passed its first official refugee legislation to address the plight of displaced Europeans following World War II.  Most refugees are displaced from their country of origin to a neighboring country, and then resettled to a third country through international organizations. The United States resettles more refugees than any other country, refugees who go on to contribute to our communities and our economy.  

What is a refugee?

A refugee, as defined by Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. This definition is based on the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols relating to the Status of Refugees, which the United States became a party to in 1968. Following the Vietnam War and the country’s experience resettling Indochinese refugees, Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which incorporated the Convention’s definition into U.S. law and provides the legal basis for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).Read more...

Published On: Wed, Nov 18, 2015 | Download File

Understanding the Legal Challenges to Executive Action

On November 20 and 21, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a series of administrative reforms of immigration policy, collectively called the Immigration Accountability Executive Action. The centerpiece of these reforms is an expansion of the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) initiative for the parents of U.S citizens and lawful permanent residents who meet certain criteria. Together, these initiatives could provide as many as 5 million immigrants with temporary relief from deportation. Moreover, DAPA and expanded DACA is expected not only to keep families united, but also to increase U.S. gross domestic product, increase tax revenue, and raise wages.

Like the original DACA initiative, both expanded DACA and DAPA derive from the executive branch’s authority to exercise discretion in the prosecution and enforcement of immigration cases. In both instances, the President has authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to defer for three years the deportation of qualified individuals who pose no threat to the United States in the hope that Congress will finally undertake more permanent, comprehensive immigration reform.

Within hours of the announcement, notorious Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio challenged the President’s plan to defer deportations in a Washington, D.C., federal court, in a case named Arpaio v. Obama.  Shortly thereafter, representatives of 17 states filed a similar case in a Brownsville, Texas, federal court, with 9 other states later joining the lawsuit, in a case named Texas v. United States. On the other hand, a broad spectrum of supporters—including 15 states and the District of Columbia —filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs supporting the President’s plan.Read more...

Published On: Tue, Nov 17, 2015 | Download File

Enforcement Overdrive: A Comprehensive Assessment of ICE’s Criminal Alien Program

The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) is a massive enforcement program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has become the primary channel through which interior immigration enforcement takes place. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of individuals removed from the interior of the United States are removed through CAP. Each year, Congress allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to fund this program. Until now, however, little has been known about how CAP works, whom CAP deports, and whether CAP has been effective in meeting its goals.


Published On: Mon, Nov 02, 2015 | Download File

“Sanctuary Cities,” Trust Acts, and Community Policing Explained

The term “sanctuary city” is often used incorrectly to describe trust acts or community policing policies that limit entanglement between local police and federal immigration authorities. These policies make communities safer and increase communication between police and their residents without imposing any restrictions on federal law enforcement activities.

1. What is a “sanctuary city” and where did the term come from?

Currently there are 326 counties, 32 cities and four states which limit local law enforcement's involvement in federal immigration enforcement.Read more...

Published On: Sat, Oct 10, 2015 | Download File

A Humane Approach Can Work: The Effectiveness of Alternatives to Detention for Asylum Seekers

For decades, the U.S. refugee protection system has been a symbol of the nation’s generosity and openness to the world’s persecuted. Yet since Congress’ enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), asylum seekers arriving at the United States-Mexico border have been subject to mandatory detention and summary deportation processes, resulting in the deportation of countless persons in need of protection. Read more...

Published On: Wed, Jul 22, 2015 | Download File

The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States

For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term. For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime. Read more...

Published On: Wed, Jul 08, 2015 | Download File

A Guide to Children Arriving at the Border: Laws, Policies and Responses

The American Immigration Council is updating this Guide which was first issued in summer 2014. It provides information about the tens of thousands of children—some travelling with their parents and others alone—who have fled their homes in Central America and arrived at our southern border. Read more...

Published On: Fri, Jun 26, 2015 | Download File

Way Too Long: Prolonged Detention in Border Patrol Holding Cells, Government Records Show

Each year, the Border Patrol, a division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), holds hundreds of thousands of people in detention facilities near the southern border that are extremely cold, frequently overcrowded, and routinely lacking in adequate food, water, medical care, and access to legal counsel. Although CBP intends these facilities only for short-term detention—meaning that a person should be held there less than 12 hours—data obtained by the American Immigration Council through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows that the Border Patrol regularly uses them to detain people for prolonged periods. Over 80 percent of people detained by the Border Patrol in its Tucson Sector are held for over 24 hours, meaning that men, women and children are forced to sleep on concrete floors and hard benches in holding cells that lack beds and are not equipped for sleeping. 

Border Patrol Holding Cells: An Overview

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the Border Patrol apprehended 479,371 individuals along the U.S.-Mexico border. Typically, when Border Patrol agents apprehend an individual near the southern border, they confine that individual in a holding cell while they complete his or her initial processing. After processing, detained individuals are released, repatriated to their home countries via formal removal or informal return, or transferred to the custody of another federal agency.   Read more...

Published On: Wed, Jun 10, 2015 | Download File

Empty Benches: Underfunding of Immigration Courts Undermines Justice

Among many longstanding problems plaguing the U.S. immigration system is the shortage of immigration judges. Over the past decade, Congress has increased immigration enforcement funding exponentially, yet has not provided the immigration courts commensurate funding to handle the hundreds of thousands of new removal cases they receive each year. The resulting backlog has led to average hearing delays of over a year and a half, with serious adverse consequences. Backlogs and delays benefit neither immigrants nor the government—keeping those with valid claims in limbo and often in detention, delaying removal of those without valid claims, and calling into question the integrity of the immigration justice system.

Dramatic Immigration Enforcement Spending Increases, Without Commensurate Court Resource Increases, Have Placed Extraordinary Burdens on the Courts

Over the last decade, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) immigration enforcement resources have increased dramatically (Figure 1):

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) combined spending increased 105 percent from Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 to FY 2015, from $9.1 billion to approximately $18.7 billion.
  • Moreover, the federal government increasingly leveraged state law-enforcement resources for immigration enforcement through programs like Secure Communities and 287(g).

In contrast, as increased enforcement has contributed to immigration court backlogs, court funding has not kept pace (Figure 1):Read more...

Published On: Thu, May 21, 2015 | Download File