Refugee Resettlement: The Sky is the Limit

The State Department recently identified 19 U.S. cities as preferred destinations for Afghan refugees. Chosen because they’re “locations with reasonable cost of living, housing availability, supportive services, and welcoming communities with volunteers and resources,” the list includes Cleveland, Buffalo, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Baltimore, as well as other Southwest and Rocky Mountain cities like Salt Lake, Denver and Phoenix.

The usual suspects – the White House, the media, the bicoastal elites, 100 percent of congressional Democrats, and 80 percent of virtue-signaling congressional Republicans, a rough estimate based on how few in the GOP have objected – can barely contain their glee over what promises to be, at least in the initial refugee wave, between 22,000 and 30,000 Afghan arrivals. Even former President Donald Trump, who slashed refugee resettlement to historically low annual levels, advocated for resettling Afghans who assisted U.S. military, a category that’s broad enough to include office personnel and other nonessential workers.

But few are more thrilled than the “volunteers and resources” groups noted above, also known as “volags” – voluntary agencies – the so-called faith-based organizations, often disparagingly called the refugee resettlement industry. In her 2018 research report compiled from the latest publicly available data, senior researcher Dr. Nayla Rush of the Center for Immigration Studies found that the federal government funded the nine major U.S. volags at the rate of 58 percent to 97 percent. Taxpayer funds go to provide refugees support with housing, food, clothing, community orientation, English lessons, enrollment in various benefits and welfare programs, referral to social service providers including health care, and employment. Volags’ chief operating officers earned, at the time of Dr. Rush’s research, annual salaries that range from a low of $132,000 to a high of $671,749.

Although many resettlement workers may be motivated by good intentions, the indisputable conclusion is that, since volags are reimbursed on a per-capita basis, fewer refugees also mean fewer jobs and less income for the agencies and their employees. Logically, volags anticipate that the Afghan crisis represents a potential pot of post-Trump gold, and are pressuring Biden to expedite the maximum total of refugees. As Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s president and CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah candidly said, “We’ve been screaming from the rooftops for months now that we need to get these allies to Guam or another U.S. territory.”

Earlier this summer, the Senate, in anticipation of what it knew would be a significant Afghan refugee influx, unanimously passed a bill that provided $1 billion toward easing the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) application process. SIVs are issued to nationals of countries who have assisted U.S. military forces, often as translators. To coincide with the Senate bill, the State Department announced that it would confer Priority-2 (P-2) designation that grants access for permanent U.S. residency to certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members that don’t or haven’t yet qualified for SIVs. Included would be Afghans who worked for U.S. government contractors, for U.S.-funded programs, or U.S.-based media or nongovernmental organizations, as well as their families.

John Kirby, assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, enthusiastically proclaimed that “we want to have the capacity to get up to several thousand immediately and want to be prepared for the potential of tens of thousands….We’re going to focus on getting as many folks [Afghan refugees] out as we can.” What total “many folks” might climb to, no one can predict. In a letter to Biden, U.S. representatives Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) urged the president to set the refugee cap at “no less than 200,000,” an increase of nearly 140,000 from the 62,500 established for 2021, and many thousands more than the 125,000 the White House previously said it would seek in 2022. Other advocates want 1.2 million Afghans resettled.

In Congress, the progressive caucus speaks loudly, and has significant sway with its receptive audience in the White House. Reaching 200,000 refugees in fiscal 2022 sounds like a stretch, but it would be consistent with the Biden administration’s America-Last agenda which has been on full display at the Southwest border since Day 1.