Jordan Candler / January 18, 2016

Expanding the Refugee Program Undermines Rule of Law

The Justice Department could broaden the legal interpretation of “refugee.”

During an address to the National Defense University last Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry declared, “I am pleased to announce that we have plans to expand the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in order to help vulnerable families and individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.” According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “[A] refugee is someone who: Is located outside of the United States”; “Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States”; “Demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group”; “Is not firmly resettled in another country”; and “Is admissible to the United States.” But as Heritage Foundation policy analyst David Inserra observes, that does not describe the people fleeing the Northern Triangle: “Based on this definition, it does not appear that most looking to enter the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras qualify for refugee status.”

Nevertheless, the Obama administration could broaden the legal interpretation to justify the new policy. Inserra notes, “In 2014, the administration first opened up this process for children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who have parents legally in the U.S. The State Department is now allowing anyone to apply for refugee status to the U.S. from within their home country.” There is speculation regarding whether the State Department will increase the overall number of refugees who can be admitted on an annual basis. Assuming it does, the consequences are not good. Inserra explains:

Importantly, because most of the victims of violence in the Northern Triangle do not qualify as a refugee under our law, the U.S. would have to weaken its refugee definition to allow most in these countries to gain refugee status. But this would have harmful side effects, which would include allowing most illegal immigrants who show up at U.S. border to successfully claim asylum (a numerically uncapped category that has a similar definition to refugee but is for people already in the U.S.). This would then encourage even more people to make the dangerous journey to enter the U.S. illegally and claim asylum. In addition to the ongoing challenges from Northern Triangle countries, the U.S. faces a host of immigration challenges, such as concerns over vetting (particularly from Syrian refugees) and collapsing immigration enforcement. These problems must be dealt with by Congress, and this administration (or the next one).

Clearly, Obama’s policy is to undermine our nation’s laws regarding immigration — both legal and illegal.

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