Rethink of U.S. refugee policy should begin at home
June 20th, 2014
08:55 AM ET

Rethink of U.S. refugee policy should begin at home

By Patrick McCormick, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Patrick McCormick is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

Even as we mark World Refugee Day today, the number of people fleeing violence has reached the highest level in two decades.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Syria, where the scale of the exodus has reached crisis proportions. Over nine million people have fled the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad. Approximately 2.8 million refugees have successfully crossed the border into adjacent countries, with Lebanon now hosting more than one million registered Syrians, and Jordan and Turkey hosting a combined 1.7 million. For perspective, at the end of last year, the United States reportedly admitted 90 Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, six million more people are internally displaced within Syria itself, part of a crisis that the United Nations has called the worst since the Rwandan genocide. And now, the surge of militants from Syria into Iraq is triggering further flight, with 500,000 residents of Mosul exiting after its takeover by armed groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Unfortunately, such suffering also extends beyond the Middle East.

Following the successful secession of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011, war broke out in December 2013. In the months since, more than one million have taken flight, and almost half of the country’s population of ten million is currently in need of humanitarian assistance. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry publicly warned in May of the potential for genocide, and the United Nations has appealed for one billion dollars in humanitarian aid.

In the Central African Republic, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the conflict there has resulted in more than 226,000 refugees and third-country nationals fleeing the country since December 2013. The United Nations for its part has found “ample evidence” of war crimes. One of the victims, a seven-year-old boy named Ibrahim, left for dead by militiamen, survived a machete wound that exposed bone and part of his brain. Miraculously, Ibrahim escaped permanent brain damage, though he will bear the machete’s mark for the rest of his life.

In Europe, attempted migration across the Mediterranean Sea has become a problem widely acknowledged to be reaching dire proportions. Indeed, Pope Francis chose to highlight the issue on his first pastoral visit outside Rome to the island of Lampedusa, where he urged international rejection of the “globalization of indifference” manifested in the ongoing tragedy of migrants dying at sea in search of refuge.

And here in the United States, President Obama just this month declared that the number of unaccompanied minors migrating across the southwestern border has become “an urgent humanitarian situation.”

But while the president should be commended for calling this what it is, namely a humanitarian crisis, these developments are symptomatic of a deeper problem. The reality is that the broken U.S. immigration system has played a critical role in dividing these families in the first place. The securitization of the southwestern border by the U.S. government has made it at once both more perilous and more costly to migrate, and most of those fleeing generalized violence simply won’t be able to fulfill strict U.S. asylum requirements. Moreover, recent mass deportations of undocumented migrants – occurring at a rate nine times higher than that of twenty years ago – have divided more than one million families who now lead lives separated from loved ones.

Since October 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported a striking increase in the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied and separated children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. One third of apprehended children interviewed by UNHCR said they were crossing to meet one or both of their parents now living in the United States. Remarkably, the organization found that a majority of these children were in need of international legal protection. As a result, UNHCR concluded that all unaccompanied and separated children from these countries should receive screening to determine whether they have recourse to such protection.

This finding is as clear as it is unequivocal: the southwestern border of the United States is now the site of a genuine humanitarian emergency, and many seeking refuge are children lacking the protection not only of their parents, but of their state.

As UNHCR António Guterres observed, these children are the “most vulnerable of the most vulnerable.”

So what should be done?

First, the United States has a legal obligation to abide by Article 33 of the U.N. Refugee Convention, which prohibits forcibly returning refugees to their country of origin. Article 33 is the keystone of the entire international policy architecture of refugee protection, and its violation risks the integrity of the system itself.

Second, U.S. policymakers must recognize that the migration flow across the country’s southwestern border is intrinsically mixed, and includes unaccompanied minors and others with international protection needs.

Third, the United States should work more aggressively through bilateral and multilateral partnerships to guarantee that displaced persons with genuine protection needs are identified and provided with a safe haven. Such efforts should be founded upon – and not merely substitute for – successfully passing comprehensive immigration reform founded upon the human dignity of the migrant.

On this World Refugee Day, then, the United States would do well to underscore its commitment to fundamental human rights by recognizing that refugee policy, as with all foreign policy, begins at home.


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Topics: Human Rights

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soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. chri§§y

    Thank you @ Ferhat! I can get behind the war machine if it is in DEFENSE of OUR country!!!

    June 21, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  2. elreyjones

    Get the Mother fukckers out of our country. Their supporters can leave also. Enough of this treason. We are sovereign and we do not want these foreigners here.

    June 22, 2014 at 12:24 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Please elreyjones, do refrain from using that filthy Tea party lingo as it has no place here. If you're talking about the U.S. and it's crony allies, I couldn't agree more.

      June 22, 2014 at 10:29 am | Reply
      • Todemidiots

        Tea party language, really? Get your head out of your butt, he can say what he wants.

        June 22, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
      • Peshwar

        Hey Joe- see any commies yet? Let Cuomo out of the office for a couple of days and what does he do? Gives us photos of Brazil's slums. Like I care! Why show us this? I see enough of USA slums.

        July 2, 2014 at 11:39 am |
      • Chuck

        This is REAL LIFE toughen up

        July 3, 2014 at 2:32 am |
      • yoga retreat

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        December 22, 2018 at 2:03 am |
      • Cbd Cream

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        January 2, 2019 at 9:18 pm |
    • your ancestors were once foreigners too

      chances are that your ancestors came to America from some foreign land........... so they were mudder fukker foreigners too........ you descendent of a mudder fukker foreigner.............. why don't you come out from hiding under your bedsheet and show us your KKK card............. 🙂

      June 23, 2014 at 1:40 am | Reply
      • Danny

        I am so sick of hearing that old straw man argument about "our ancestors were immigrants/foreigners." We are country of laws–Rule of law and we should follow what we have established. The country will be much better for it. I for one have no guilt feelings for controlling our borders.

        June 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
      • Mitch Savini

        If Mexico could take care of their people we wouldn't have to, the Mexican government needs to solve their own internal corruption and stop sucking the life out the U.S. Everyone likes to hate on the U.S. until they need money, then it's game on. The middle eastern and South American countries that like to spew their hatred at the west need to stay out of Europe and the U.S. Political correctness be damned!

        June 24, 2014 at 6:35 am |
      • Peshwar

        Cool the language dude! Look, we do not want these foreigners here. They will just cost us money and take from us taxpayers in the form of govt. assistance. Go to Arizona to find out!

        July 2, 2014 at 11:41 am |
      • bob

        Who are you? Are you an American or an Terrorist???????

        December 8, 2015 at 11:18 pm |
      • BoB

        You're grossly inappropriate , either you're an illegal or an terrorist??? Please, we want peace in America!!!!!!

        December 8, 2015 at 11:21 pm |
      • Bob

        Here's a solution, go to the middle east and fight against ISIS, like a REAL man! Are you a real man??? Or a small little boy with mommy issues?

        December 8, 2015 at 11:24 pm |
  3. chri§§y

    Lol its ok @ Joseph...Profanity is the product of an unsophisticated mind thats all!

    June 22, 2014 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, chrissy. You're absolutely right.

      June 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Reply
      • j harvey

        We neither have the funds or the resources to take care of other countries citizens
        1 in 5 children in the US are hungry, as long as other couintries can send their unwanted to us there
        will be no attempts by these countries to take care of their people. The second largest industry in mexico is remitances of currency from the US. If you want see how badly this can go ask Germany about their immagration problems. Mexico has some of the toughest immagration laws in the world, wonder why.

        June 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
      • Natural Cbd

        You just changed my view point on more than a few things. This website is like the cookies to a glass of tasty milk. When I use this data I will be sure to use your article in the list of citations. This writing style reminds me of my professor back in Kentucky.

        December 17, 2018 at 3:40 am |
  4. chri§§y

    Your welcome @ Joseph. However im thinking if sophistication turns me into the pompous one on the 2nd thread i might have to pass on that!

    June 22, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  5. Rick McDaniel

    Only a closed border can solve America's immigration problems. Nothing else will work.

    June 24, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • Rob S

      A closed border does not answer the problem of the approximately 12 million illegal aliens currently living in the US. That's like shutting the barn door after millions of horses already left. We need better enforcement and removal of everyone who is here illegally, in every state in our nation. Otherwise, we will continue to be accused of, and bashed for, separating the families of illegal aliens, who had no right to be here in the first place, and we will continue to enable anchor babies being born in the US (who are 'citizens' that will also blame us for their separation from their illegal alien families).

      June 25, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Reply
      • Steve

        the point of view expressed by Rob S is the refuge of a poor political position – to wit "what about the XX million ilegal aliens already here...?" This question is usually posed by the very folks who insisted that those illegal aliens should have been allowed entry without limitation. What is the answer?? Summer vacation – the US has tens of thousands of un/under used yellow school busses sittling idle right now. Fill 'em up with illegal aliens & drive them to the U.S./Mexico border for deposit into Mexico – let the Mexicans sort it out for a couple of decades. As with any other big problem the sooner we start the sooner we will finish.
        By the way the first empty school bus returning to the US should have our Marine sergeant safely on board.

        June 30, 2014 at 12:59 pm |
  6. Quadg

    the rise in social media has coincided with the rise in social strife.
    for every person leaping on a charity bandwagon, there is someone leaping on an extremists wagon.

    the devil does indeed make work for idle hands..

    in a universe with entropy. stability is fleeting and really the only thing of true value.

    don't destroy it will idle chatter...

    June 25, 2014 at 10:06 am | Reply
  7. hannah

    Idealism and pity for the fate of others is a nice thing in theory, but in all practicality the fate of these people is not our burden to bear. Some within the federal government will do anythng they can to strain the states and local budgets to a breaking point. It's as if they are lookin for our nation to implode so some twisted new radical foreigner anti american force can take over the country and ruin our beauty, joy, goodness and sense of well being. I am so glad that there are some Senators who are wide awake and focused on all the crap that's going on and they are doing their best to control the sitation and hold back the ones who just don't seem to have any awareness of the harm they are doing.

    June 25, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • freduardo

      Thank you Hannah for a well written comment. This country in the last thirty years has gone in the wrong direction and immigration is one of the worst examples. Several years ago a bipartisan commission was charged with making recommendations on what immigration policies would work best in the future. Without fail all of the recommendations have been ignored and the result is the disaster we see now.

      July 2, 2014 at 1:46 am | Reply
  8. michael

    news break these are Americans there letting across the border, north America south America da.

    June 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Reply
  9. joe

    Yes this is another step to make USA UNITED STATES OF LATIN AMERICA.

    June 25, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  10. Jorge

    Most refugees come from countries where the culture and / or religion do not allow women to control the number of their children. Subsequently these countries are over-population relative to their economic resources, resulting in fighting over resources (civil war) and emigration to counties where birth control is practiced. Over-population, a major source of most of the world's problems.

    June 27, 2014 at 12:49 am | Reply
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      December 20, 2018 at 12:03 am | Reply
  11. Paul G

    Refuges in our Southwest?? What war are they fleeing from? Comparing the illegals trying to get into the USA for benefits to refugees fleeing a war torn Syria and Iraq is reprehensible and insults the intelligence of the readers.

    June 30, 2014 at 10:32 am | Reply
  12. Teggles

    Let's deport xenophobia. #deportxenophobia

    July 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  13. alex

    great cnn

    July 6, 2019 at 3:19 am | Reply
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