Refugees, Rights, and Responsibilities: Bridging the Integration Gap
University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2017
64 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2018
Date Written: 2017
Closing U.S. borders to refugees will not likely enhance domestic security. The United Nations (“U.N.”) and some Western democracies suggest that a policy of integrating refugees may more effectively promote the security interests of both refugees and the countries in which they resettle. Refugee integration is a multifaceted process requiring accommodation on behalf of individual refugees and host societies. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) requires states admitting resettled refugees to facilitate their integration. Contrary to this mandate, the U.S. government has not strived to integrate the refugees it has agreed to resettle within its borders. Instead, federal policy emphasizes rapid and minimal economic self-sufficiency for refugees, which is consistent with other government policies that privatize social welfare for the poor. When compared to a theoretical model of refugee integration, this article concludes that U.S. resettlement efforts fall short of an integration process. To the contrary, the U.S. strategy of prioritizing immediate participation in the work force undermines the successful incorporation of many refugees into American society. This failure stands to impair the security interests of both refugees and host communities.
Community efforts can help fill the gap between the inadequate U.S. resettlement program and the UNHCR’s integration mandate. The Author has presented workshops on U.S. law to educate local refugees about their legal rights and responsibilities. These workshops — described in this article — reflect one way in which host communities can foster integration, even in the absence of a national integration policy. Such a local effort can promote mutual understanding and safety.
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