In 1940s/50s how did refugees earn US citizenship?

In 1940s/50s how did refugees earn US citizenship?

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I'm writing a piece about a polish refugee at the start of WW2 and I am trying to figure out the process for an unaccompanied minor, whose parents are supposed to be dead if that makes a difference, to become a US citizen in the late 40s or early 50s.

  • Does the country of origin (Poland here) make a difference?
  • How does the minor status affect the process?
  • What were the conditions (having lived in the US for x years, etc?) at that time - it is easy to find the rules today, but were they the same during WW2 with the many European refugees?
  • Does it matter if the parents are alive or supposed dead? (confirmation difficult in post-WW2, Soviet occupied Poland)
  • Does it make a difference if the boy is adopted by US citizens (considered orphan as parents are supposed to be dead) ?

There are plenty of examples for refugees becoming permanent US residents and citizens, but I could not find the exact process at that time for an unaccompanied minor.

I understand one had to be adult to become a citizen. So to amend the question: What would be the process once the person had his 19th birthday?

In 1940s/50s how did refugees earn US citizenship?

Pretty much the same way as every one before them did they took a number and got in line and waited 5 years, then took their citizenship tests.

However, there were some side doors for certain people, and for certain skill sets. If you had fought with US forces you were given Veterans preference. If you were a scientist in any subject of interest to the military or the US government, you went to the top of the list. There was also indeed a preference for Europeans (and had been since the 1920's). In addition there was a sort of unofficial policy among sympathetic US Immigration officials to speed along those who had suffered most from the WWII, and especially the holocaust. Poland was exceptionally hard hit, with every single city except Krakow pounded to rubble. All these incoming Immigrants at the time were called DP's, for Displaced Persons. Someone from Poland in the 1940's and 1950's would have qualified on both counts as both European preference and as a DP. Most Polish immigrants settled in (and still do to this day) New York (Buffalo), Illinois (Chicago), Michigan and Pennsylvania. Nearly one third of all Poles in the U.S. live in the Chicago area, and the number of folks claiming Polish ancestry around Chicago exceed the current population of Warsaw, the capital of Poland.

In the 1920's, for a short while, the Ku Klux Klan was a legitimate political party and had an influence in Congress. This KKK influence affected some immigration legislation laws passed in 1919 and 1926 and suffice it to say the laws were generally designed to keep out or minimize Asians and other people of color, thereby making it a de-facto preference for Europeans. This didn't get changed until the Immigration Act of 1965 finally allowed people from all nations to be given equal access to immigration and naturalization.

The topic of minors and war orphans after WWII is a huge one, and the subject of a whole other write-up. Lost children, minors and orphans stood at the center of bitter political conflicts between the military, State Department, foster parents, Jewish agencies, German agencies, social workers and the DP's themselves. There are too many variations and situations to discuss and list, but in general, yes a child's status and background could greatly influence their ability to come to the US and speed up their US citizenship, depending on which organization you were working with, but nothing was guaranteed.

Biden promised a ‘fair and humane’ immigration overhaul. What he inherited is a mess.

“Even if people would say these things behind closed doors, it was never articulated in public fashion the way that Trump did,” says Ruth Wasem, a professor of public policy practice at the University of Texas who specializes in asylum. “Now, that vitriol towards refugees — once that taboo is crossed, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”

Since World War II, presidents of both parties have accepted millions of asylum seekers, honoring the treaties and statutes that the U.S. agreed to over the decades after the Holocaust affirming a right to refuge for people fleeing persecution. Taking in refugees has never been particularly popular in American public opinion, leaving the system vulnerable to a populist political attack, but governmental leaders had been able to invoke notions of America’s standing in the world to depoliticize asylum policy and keep commitments relatively steady. No longer.

Since Trump mainly used executive action — circumventing Congress — to change policy, it may not be hard for Biden to reopen the U.S. to refugees and asylum seekers over the next four years. But in the longer term, closing the political divide that Trump widened on asylum will prove much more challenging. Thanks to the last administration, asylum in the U.S., once globally reliable, has become like the carpeting in the Oval Office: something that can be torn up and remade from president to president.

On the campaign trail, Biden framed asylum as more than a policy: He made it clear that he sees rebuilding asylum as fundamental to his mission of restoring the soul of the nation: “Offering hope and safe haven to refugees is part of who we are as a country,” his platform read.

He was appealing to a vision of America that predates even the Constitution. In colonial times, Thomas Paine’s fiery pamphlet Common Sense described the so-called New World’s potential to be a shelter for those fleeing civil and religious persecution across the globe. “O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind,” Paine wrote in 1776. And since then, the image of the U.S. as a sanctuary has pervaded the national mythos: The colossal, outward-facing Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor raises her beacon to the world’s tired, poor, tempest-tossed and homeless, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Schoolchildren are taught that the Founding Fathers’ forefathers, the Pilgrims who fled England, were themselves, fundamentally, refugees.

But a countercurrent has run through American history as well. America has repeatedly shut its borders to whole classes of people considered undesirable — regardless of their need or moral standing. There have been horrifying incidents, such as when a ship carrying nearly a thousand Jews fleeing Nazi Germany was turned away and sent back to Europe in 1939. As the Third Reich blitzed across the continent, at least 250 of the people who had been on the ship were killed.

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, photographed June 03, 1939. | United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / National Archives and Records Administration

And yet, a majority of Americans have been comfortable with this. From the 1930s on, U.S. public opinion polling has showed consistent opposition, or at best ambivalence, to refugee resettlement. Hostility to asylum seekers remained strong enough that in 1951, the U.S. became one of only a handful of countries around the world that refused to sign the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, a United Nations treaty that forms the foundation of modern refugee law.

It wasn’t until 1967 — after the Vietnam War had critically polluted the U.S.’s global human right’s reputation — that the U.S. acquiesced and signed onto a renewed version of the treaty. More than a decade later, President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980, which had been supported by a unanimous vote in the Senate. The law sought “to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees.” The U.S. then quickly moved to the global fore, accepting more refugees than any other country in the world from the 1980s on.

On the one hand, the Cold War provided a fairly straightforward foreign policy justification for presidents of both parties to accept tens of thousands of refugees each year, especially from Communist regimes. It was a way both to repudiate the Soviet ideology and to burnish the U.S.’s human rights image in comparison. But Wasem, who has studied the history of asylum policy, says that geopolitical gamesmanship wasn’t the only thing maintaining a steady bipartisan respect of asylum for so long. “Even though there was not a lot of public support for asylum seekers or refugees, it was just not a top tier political issue,” she says. Historically, Americans have not obsessed over the issue the way they have under Trump. “It was not something people would have ever voted on,” Wasem says.

Of course, the U.S. has never been an open door: Under President Ronald Reagan, thousands of Guatemalans and Salvadorans fleeing brutal civil wars were deported to danger and potential death in their homelands. Under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, thousands of Haitian families were indefinitely interned in an open-air prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. But for decades, politicians of both parties heralded the importance of America’s symbolic welcomeness to those in need: In his farewell address, Reagan described the U.S. as “still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.” Since the formalization of an asylum system in the U.S., there had never been a year when the U.S. outright refused refugees, no matter where they came from.

That changed under Trump, who has called asylum a “scam.” In 2020, just as the number of asylum seekers worldwide reached the highest levels since World War II, for the first time in over a generation, the U.S. effectively sealed its borders to refugees. After more than three years of chipping away at asylum, in March 2020, the Trump administration universally suspended, with few exceptions, refugee resettlement from other countries, and the U.S. has since turned away hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers at the border.

Trump didn’t invent the issue as with many things, he rode a wave already cresting in his party. In the years before Trump took office, Eleanor Acer, the senior director of refugee protection at the advocacy organization Human Rights First, says she began hearing new rhetoric targeting asylum seekers from parts of Capitol Hill. While Republican politicians had long lambasted undocumented immigration, few had ever specifically fixated on asylum, a legal form of immigration. But a new sort of message was beginning to emerge from a handful of congressional offices. Suddenly, in these corners, refugees and asylum seekers were being portrayed as line cutters, as cheaters and as criminals.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and his aide Stephen Miller, in 2011. Miller and Sessions would go on to become senior adviser and attorney general, respectively, to President Trump. | Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call via AP

Acer says that, for a while, those messages were only coming from extremist figures, like Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, whom Stephen Miller worked for as a communications director. Even when Miller was a minor figure in his party and little-known outside the halls of Congress, his opposition to asylum was notorious among Capitol Hill staffers and advocates, Acer says. In 2013, he spearheaded the PR campaign that sank the bipartisan “gang of eight” immigration reform bill. Acer says that the prevailing conservative attitude towards refugees was fundamentally shaken when Miller joined Trump’s ascendant primary campaign in January 2016 and went on to be a senior adviser to the 45th president.

“For years, Stephen Miller and his allies, who were on the fringe of the Republican Party, worked on the Hill to try to block refugees and people seeking asylum in this country. As many of those same people moved into the White House, that xenophobic ideology infected a broader swath of the political scene,” she says.

Even before he brought Miller on to his campaign, Trump shared his antipathy for asylum. In December 2015, he conflated nationalist immigration and assimilation concerns with refugee policies, calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and he moved almost the entire Republican field of candidates with him on the issue. After Trump won the presidency, when the so-called Muslim ban became a reality in the name of national security, its impact primarily fell on asylum seekers. A Cato Institute analysis of State Department data found that from 2016 to 2018, the number of Muslim refugees admitted to the U.S. fell by more than 90 percent, whereas Muslim immigrants and visitors dropped by a much smaller percentage.

For Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, the Muslim ban marked a turning point in American history. “Trump pushed the bounds of what the president can do to restrict legal immigration,” he says. Asylum is supposed to be within the purview of Congress, but Nowrasteh says that, after decades of unwillingness to take action, the legislative branch has ceded most of its power to the executive. When the Supreme Court decided, in Hawaii v. Trump, that the ban could remain in place, Nowrasteh says that a new precedent was set, which Trump would continue to leverage: “that the president can stop all immigration whenever he wants to.”


The earliest surviving records of Bhutan's history show that Tibetan influence already existed from the 6th century. King Songtsen Gampo, who ruled Tibet from the years 627 to 649, was responsible for the construction of Bhutan's oldest surviving Buddhist temples, the Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro and the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang. [1] Settlement in Bhutan by people of Tibetan origin happened by this time. [1] [2]

The first reports of people of Nepalese origin in Bhutan was around 1620, when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal commissioned a few Newar craftsmen from the Kathmandu valley in Nepal to make a silver stupa to contain the ashes of his father Tempa Nima. [3] Since then, people of Nepalese origin started to settle in uninhabited areas of southern Bhutan. [4] The south soon became the country's main supplier of food. Bhutanese of Nepalese origin, Lhotshampas, were flourishing along with the economy of Bhutan. By 1930, according to British colonial officials, much of the south was under cultivation by a population of Nepali origin that amounted to some 60,000 people. [4]

Settlement in Bhutan of a large number of people from Nepal happened in the early 20th century. [5] : 162–165 This settlement was encouraged by the Bhutan House in Kalimpong for the purpose of collecting taxes for the government. In the 1930s, the Bhutan House settled 5,000 families of Nepali workers in Tsirang alone. In the 1940s, the British Political Officer Sir Basil Gould was quoted as saying that when he warned Sir Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji of Bhutan House of the potential danger of allowing so many ethnic Nepalese to settle in southern Bhutan, he replied that "since they were not registered subjects they could be evicted whenever the need arose." [6] Furthermore, Lhotshampa were forbidden from settling north of the subtropical foothills. [5] : 30 [7] : 160–162

Expatriate Nepalese, who resettled in West Bengal and Assam after leaving Bhutan, formed the Bhutan State Congress in 1952 to represent the interests of other expatriates in India as well as the communities they had left behind. An effort to expand their operations into Bhutan with a satyagraha (non-violent resistance) movement in 1954 failed in the face of the mobilization of Bhutan's militia and a lack of enthusiasm among those Nepalese in Bhutan, who did not want to risk their already tenuous status. The Bhutanese government further diffused the Bhutan State Congress movement by granting concessions to the minority and allowing Nepalese representation in the National Assembly. The Bhutan State Congress continued to operate in exile until its decline and gradual disappearance in the early 1960s. The leaders in exile were pardoned in 1969 and permitted to return. [8]

Bhutan's Citizenship Act of 1958 Edit

Toward the end of the reign of the second King Jigme Wangchuck in the 1950s, the numbers of new immigrants had swelled causing tension between the King and the Dorji family in the Bhutan House. [5] Amnesty was given through the Citizenship Act of 1958 for all those who could prove their presence in Bhutan for at least 10 years prior to 1958. [9] On the other hand, the government also banned further immigration in 1958. [5]

From 1961 onward however, with Indian support, the government began planned developmental activities consisting of significant infrastructure development works. Uncomfortable with India's desire to bring in workers in large numbers from India, the government initially tried to prove its own capacity by insisting that the planned Thimphu-Phuntsholing highway be done with its own workforce. The government also attempted to rein in immigration. [10] While the project was a success, completing the 182-kilometer highway in just two years, the import of workers from India was inevitable. With most Bhutanese self-employed as farmers, Bhutan lacked a ready supply of workers willing to take up the major infrastructure projects. This led eventually to the large-scale immigration of skilled and unskilled construction workers from India. [5] : 162–165, 220 [10] [11] These people were mostly of Nepali origin and settled in the south, as required, among legal and illegal residents alike. [7] : 160–162 With the pressures of the developmental activities, this trend remained unchecked or inadequately checked for many years. Immigration check posts and immigration offices were in fact established for the first time only after 1990. [11]

Bhutan's Citizenship Act of 1985 Edit

By the 1980s, the government had become acutely conscious not just of widespread illegal immigration of people of Nepali origin into Bhutan, but also of the total lack of integration even of long-term immigrants into the political and cultural mainstream of the country. Most Lhotshampa remained culturally Nepalese. For its part, the government had largely ignored illegal settlement, [12] but had encouraged intermarriage with cash payments as a means of assimilation. However, this was met with negligible success as far as actual assimilation. There was also a perception of a Greater Nepal movement emerging from the Nepali-dominated areas in Nepal, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and West Bengal which the Bhutanese feared as Nepali chauvinism. [5] : 183–186, 239 [7] : 161 [13] : 63

Perceiving this growing dichotomy as a threat to national unity, the government promulgated directives in the 1980s that sought to preserve Bhutan's cultural identity as well as to formally embrace the citizens of other ethnic groups in a "One Nation, One People" policy. The government implied that the "culture" to be preserved would be that of the various northern Bhutanese groups. To reinforce this movement, the government forced the use of the Driglam Namzha, the Bhutanese national dress and etiquette code. This policy required citizens to wear the attire of the northern Bhutanese in public places under penalty of fines, and reinforced the status of Dzongkha as the national language. Nepali was discontinued as a subject in the schools, thus bringing it at par with the status of the other languages of Bhutan, none of which are taught. [13] : 68 [14] [15] Such policies were criticized at first by human rights groups as well as Bhutan's Nepalese economic migrant community, who perceived the policy to be directed against them. The government, for its part, perceived that free Nepali-language education had encouraged illegal immigration into southern Bhutan. [15]

The Citizenship Act of 1985 clarified and attempted to enforce the Citizenship Act of 1958 to control the flood of illegal immigration. In 1980, the government conducted its first real census exercise. The basis for census citizenship classifications was the 1958 "cut off" year, the year that the Nepali population had first received Bhutanese citizenship. Those individuals who could not provide proof of residency prior to 1958 were adjudged to be illegal immigrants.

Bhutan's first census (1988) Edit

The issue was brought to the fore when the government of Bhutan discovered in its first census the magnitude of the Lhotsampa population. [14] Lhotsampa of Nepali descent who had been living in southern Bhutan since the late nineteenth [1] [16] [17] and early twentieth centuries were induced to leave Bhutan after the country carried out its first census in 1988. The government, however, failed to properly train the census officials and this led to some tension among the public. Placement in the census categories which ranged from "Genuine Bhutanese" to "Non-nationals: Migrants and Illegal Settlers" was often arbitrary, and could be arbitrarily changed. [18] In some cases members of the same family have been, and still are, placed in different categories some admittedly genuine Bhutanese have been forced to flee with family members the government found to be illegal immigrants. [18] [19] : 37–39 Other Lhotshampa who considered their own citizenship secure were prevented by government officials from obtaining proper documentation, losing their property. [19] : 37–39

The government also attempted to enforce the Bhutanese driglam namzha dress and language code at the same time, to have the Lhotshampa population assimilate into Ngalop society. [19] : 38–39 The government explained its cultural identity programs as a defense against the first political problems since the Wangchuck Dynasty was established in 1907 and the greatest threat to the nation's survival since the seventeenth century. In an effort to resolve the interethnic strife, the Druk Gyalpo made frequent visits to the troubled southern districts, and he ordered the release of hundreds of arrested "antinationals." He also expressed the fear that the large influx of Nepalese might lead to their demand for a separate state in the next ten to twenty years, in much the same way as happened in the once-independent monarchy of Sikkim in the 1970s. [8]

However, these measures combined to alienate even bona fide citizens of Nepali descent. Some ethnic Nepalese began protesting perceived discrimination, demanding exemption from the government decrees aimed at enhancing Bhutanese national identity. The reaction to the royal decrees in Nepalese majority communities surfaced as ethnic strife directed against non-Lhotshampa. Reactions also took form as protest movements in Nepal and India among Nepalese who had left Bhutan. The Druk Gyalpo was accused of "cultural suppression," and his government was charged by antigovernment leaders with human rights violations, including the torture of prisoners arbitrary arrest and detention denial of due process and restrictions of freedoms of speech and press, peaceful organization and assembly, and workers' rights. Antigovernment protest marches involved more than 20,000 participants, including some from a movement that had succeeded in coercing India into accepting local autonomy for ethnic Nepalese in West Bengal, who crossed the border from West Bengal and Assam into six districts across Bhutan. [8] As the census exercise came to an end, the southern border of Bhutan became a hotbed of militancy for several years.

Supporting the anti-government activities were expatriate Nepalese political groups and supporters in Nepal and India. Between 2,000 and 12,000 Nepalese were reported to have fled Bhutan in the late 1980s, and according to a 1991 report, even high-level Bhutanese government officials of Nepalese origin had resigned their positions and moved to Nepal. Some 5 million Nepalese were living in settlements in India along the Bhutan border in 1990. Nepalese were not necessarily welcome in India, where ethnic strife conspired to push them back through the largely unguarded Bhutanese frontier. The Bhutan Peoples' Party operated among the large Nepalese community in northern India. A second group, the Bhutan People's Forum for Human Rights (a counterpart of the Nepal People's Forum for Human Rights), was established in 1998 in Nepal by Tek Nath Rizal, a Lhotshampa and former trusted official of the Royal Advisory Council who acted as a chief liaison between the government and the Lhotshampa in the south, as well as a former member of the National Assembly of Bhutan. The Bhutan Students Union and the Bhutan Aid Group-Nepal also were involved in political activism. [8]

In November 1989, Tek Nath Rizal was allegedly abducted in eastern Nepal by Bhutanese police and returned to Thimphu, where he was imprisoned on charges of conspiracy and treason. He was also accused of instigating the racial riots in southern Bhutan. Rizal was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993. [8] [20]

Interethnic conflict (1990s) Edit

Interethnic conflict generally escalated during the 1990s. In February 1990, antigovernment activists detonated a remote-control bomb on a bridge near Phuntsholing and set fire to a seven-vehicle convoy. [8]

In September 1990, clashes occurred with the Royal Bhutan Army, which was ordered not to fire on protesters. The men and women marchers were organized by S.K. Neupane and other members of the illegal Bhutan Peoples' Party, which reportedly urged the marchers to demand democracy and human rights for all Bhutanese citizens. Some villagers willingly joined the protests others did so under duress. The government branded the party, reportedly established by anti-monarchists and backed by the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), as a terrorist organization. The party allegedly led its members – said to be armed with rifles, muzzle-loading guns, knives, and homemade grenades – in raids on villages in southern Bhutan, disrobing people wearing traditional Bhutanese garb extorting money and robbing, kidnapping, and killing people. Reportedly, there were hundreds of casualties, although the government admitted to only two deaths among security forces. Other sources indicated that more than 300 persons were killed, 500 wounded, and 2,000 arrested in clashes with security forces. Along with the above-mentioned violence, vehicle hijackings, kidnappings, extortions, ambushes, and bombings took place, schools were closed (some were destroyed), and post offices, police, health, forest, customs, and agricultural posts were destroyed. For their part, security forces were charged by the Bhutan Peoples' Party, in protests made to Amnesty International and the International Human Rights Commission, with murder and rape and carrying out a "reign of terror". In support of the expatriate Nepalese, the general secretary of the Nepali Congress Party, the ruling party in Nepal, called on the Druk Gyalpo to establish a multiparty democracy. Some of the organizers of the marches were arrested and detained. [8] [14] The Bhutanese government admitted only to the arrest of 42 people involved in "anti-national" activities in late 1989, plus 3 additional individuals who had been extradited from Nepal. All but 6 were reportedly later released those remaining in jail were charged with treason. By September 1990, more than 300 additional prisoners held in the south were released following the Druk Gyalpo's tour of southern districts. [8]

In the face of government resistance to demands that would institutionalize separate identities within the nation, protesters in the south insisted that the Bhutan Peoples' Party flag be flown in front of administrative headquarters and that party members be allowed to carry the kukri, a traditional Nepalese curved knife, at all times. They also called for the right not to wear the Bhutanese national dress, and insisted that schools and government offices stay closed until their demands were met. The unmet demands were accompanied by additional violence and deaths in October 1990. At the same time, India pledged "all possible assistance that the royal government might seek in dealing with this problem" and assured that it would protect the frontier against groups seeking illegal entry to Bhutan. [8]

By early 1991, the press in Nepal was referring to insurgents in southern Bhutan as "freedom fighters". The Bhutan Peoples' Party claimed that more than 4,000 advocates of democracy had been arrested by the Royal Bhutan Army. Charges were made that some of those arrested had been murdered outside Bhutanese police stations and that some 4,200 persons had been deported. [8]

To deter and regulate Nepalese migration into Bhutan from India, the Druk Gyalpo ordered more regular censuses, improved border checks, and better government administration in the southern districts. The more immediate action of forming citizens' militias took place in October 1990 as a backlash to the demonstrations. Internal travel regulations were made more strict with the issue of new multipurpose identification cards by the Ministry of Home Affairs in January 1990. By the end of 1990, the government admitted the serious effects of the anti-government violence. It was announced that foreign- exchange earnings had dropped and that the GDP had decreased significantly because of terrorist activities. [8]

In 1992 interethnic conflict again flared, prompting a peak in Lhotshampa departures, totaling over 100,000 by 1996. [21] Many Lhotshampa claim to have been forcibly evicted by the military, who forced them to sign "Voluntary Migration Form" documents stating they had left willingly. [19] : 39 [22] [23]

In 1998, Tek Nath Rizal was granted a royal pardon and left for Nepal to form the "People's Forum for Human Rights". [20] [24] [25]

During the 1990s several thousand Lhotshampa settled in the refugee camps that were set up by the UNHCR in Nepal. The UNHCR recognized most of the arrivals between 1990 and 1993 on a prima facie basis. [26] By 1996, the camp populations had exploded to 100,000 [21] and peaked at more than 107,000 persons. [27]


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) claims that USRAP's mission is "to offer resettlement opportunities to persons overseas who are of special humanitarian concern, while protecting national security and combating fraud." [7] The goals of USRAP are [8]

  • Arranging refugees' placement by ensuring that approved refugees are sponsored and offered appropriate assistance upon arrival in the U.S.
  • Providing refugees with basic necessities and core services during their initial resettlement period in the U.S.
  • Promoting refugee self-sufficiency through employment as soon as possible after arrival in the U.S. in coordination with other refugee service and assistance programs.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. refugee resettlement program is based on the United States’ aspirations, which are compassion, generosity, and leadership and since 1975, over 3 million refugees from all over the world have been welcomed to the United States. [9]

Through 1946 Edit

In response to the growing crisis in Europe posed by the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, private citizens took responsibility for the first refugee resettlement undertaken by the United States. Groups of concerned citizens worked to assist political, intellectual, cultural and scientific leaders who had fled the increasing repressive Fascist governments in Germany, Italy and Spain. Among those rescued in that initial group of refugees were the political scientist Hannah Arendt, the painter Marc Chagall, the novelist Franz Werfel, the philosopher Alfredo Mendizabal, the medical scientist Fritz Kahn, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, the historian Golo Mann, and the Nobel Prize–winning biochemist Otto Meyerhoff. Early actors in assisting refugees were the International Rescue Committee, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and Church World Service (CWS) who assisted thousands of refugees resettle in cities throughout the United States before the end of 1946. In the early stage of refugee resettlement in the U.S., faith communities in the United States played a significant role in protecting refugees and in helping them resettle. These faith-based organizations focused on resettling refugees during World War II and immediately thereafter. (Note: this was before the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and long before the U.S. ratified the 1967 Protocol.) [10] : 590

World War II through the Indo-Chinese Refugee Crises Edit

The U.S. government authorized refugee admissions on an ad hoc basis, designating specific populations for entry through "erratic and unpredictable authorizations." [10] : 589 The approach toward federal funding of refugee resettlement was similarly ad hoc. Generally speaking, the resettlement agencies provided the vast majority of the resources needed to support refugee. [10] : 589 The Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the first refugee legislation enacted by U.S. Congress, provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans. Previous to this Act, 250,000 displaced Europeans had already been admitted to the U.S. [11] After the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, refugee admission laws evolved to accept people fleeing from communist regimes such as Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, North Korea, China, and Cuba. The refugees were usually supported by private (both ethnic, religious and secular) organizations, which formed the basis for the public/private role of U.S. refugee resettlement today. [11] Notable resettlement efforts include the admission of 35,000 Hungarians who fled the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Resettlement activities were coordinated by a civilian Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief under the chairmanship of Mr. Tracey F. Voorhees. This Committee has coordinated all activities in connection with what was termed "Operation Mercy." In the process it utilized the services of more than 20 volunteer and governmental agencies. [12]

1975 Edit

After the fall of Vietnam in April 1975, the U.S. faced the challenge of resettling hundreds of thousands of displaced Indochinese refugees. They established an Indochinese refugee task force to respond to this crisis. After this situation, Congress realized it needed to create procedures that would deal with the ongoing resettlement of refugees and therefore passed the Refugee Act of 1980. [13] Since 1975, over three million refugees have been resettled in the U.S., with annual admissions figures ranging from a high of 207,000 in 1980 to a low of 27,110 in 2002. The average number admitted annually since 1980 is 98,000. [11]

1980 Edit

Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized the resettlement services of all refugees in the U.S. This act incorporates the definition of "refugee" used in the UN Protocol, provides for a regular flow of admittants, and has a contingency for emergency admissions of refugees. It also authorizes federal assistance for the resettlement of refugees. [11]

2011 to today Edit

Today, USRAP comprises professional staffs from both religious and secular agencies working together in local communities. These groups both assist refugees with local integration and ensure that they have access to available services. [10] : 592

Each year the President of the United States—after consulting with Congress and the appropriate agencies—determines the designated nationalities and processing priorities for refugee resettlement for the upcoming year. As of 2011, USRAP sponsored over 56,000 refugees in the U.S. [14] According to the Proposed Refugee Admissions for 2012, the U.S. has addressed refugees’ challenges after their arrival and has responded to their needs. As a part of these efforts, the National Security Staff (NSS) tried to recognize issues and find interagency solutions. This implementation resulted in a noticeable increase in the one-time per capita Reception and Placement Grant administered by the Department of State in FY 2010. [15] In FY 2011, the Department of State/PRM and the Department of Health and Human Service/IRR developed more "timely information on refugee arrivals and can better manage their work" and will keep co-leading this effort. [15]

On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769 (Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States) suspending the USRAP program for 120 days. [16] [17] [18] [19] On April 25, 2017, United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California William Orrick III ruled that Trump exceeded his presidential authority when he signed EO 13768 on January 25, 2017, directing his administration to withhold all federal funding from local jurisdictions deemed to be "sanctuary jurisdictions" including "sanctuary cities" by issuing a preliminary injunction. [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] Judge Orrick subsequently issued a nationwide permanent injunction on November 20, 2017, declaring that section 9(a) of Executive Order 13768 was "unconstitutional on its face" [25] [26] and violates "the separation of powers doctrine and deprives [the plaintiffs] of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights." [27] United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, refused on May 25, 2017 to reinstate the ban, citing religious discrimination. [28] On June 1, 2017, the Trump administration appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for the cancellation of the preliminary injunctions and to allow the order to go into effect while the court looks at its ultimate legality later in the year. [29] On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court partially lifted the halt and will hear oral arguments for the petition to vacate the injunctions in the fall. [30]

On March 6, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13870 (Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States) which revoked EO 13769. [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] Proclamation 9645 (Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats)of September 24, 2017, supplements EO 13780 of March 6, 2017. [36] [37] [38] [39] On October 17, 2017, Judge Derrick Watson, of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii issued another temporary restraining order that was asked by the state of Hawaii. Watson's decision noted that the latest ban “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor” as it “plainly discriminates based on nationality” and as such violates federal law and “the founding principles of this Nation.” [40]

On October 24, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13815 (Resuming the United States Refugee Admissions Program with Enhanced Vetting Capabilities). [41] [42] [43] On December 4, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that EO 13815 could go into full effect until the legal appeals are being weighed in the lower courts. [44]

Numbers Edit

In the 2016 fiscal year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees from around the world. In 2017, the Trump Administration capped the number at 45,000, with the stated rationale of saving money. [45] [46] In 2018 it was announced by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States would cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at 30,000 for fiscal year 2019. [47] On September 26, 2019, The Trump administration announced it plans to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, its lowest level since the modern program began in 1980. [48] [49] [50] [51] Since President Trump has not yet signed off on the FY 2020 cap, no refugees have been admitted since October 1, 2019. A moratorium on refugee flights extends through November 5, as of October 29. [52]

In 2020, The Trump administration announces that it plans to slash refugee admissions to U.S. for 2021 to a record low, 15,000 refugees down from a cap of 18,000 for 2020. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining refugee admissions under the Trump term. [53] [54] [55]

Period Refugee Programme [46] [47] [50]
2018 45,000
2019 30,000
2020 18,000
2021 15,000

There is no evidence that refugees to the United States have an impact on crime rates. [2] [3] [4]

Studies show that refugees to the United States have a positive impact on the U.S. economy and native welfare. [56] [57] [58] [59] [60] [61] [62] [63] [64] [65] [6] [66] A 2018 study in the Economic Journal found that Vietnamese refugees to the United States had a positive impact on American exports, as exports to Vietnam grew most in US states with larger Vietnamese populations. [67] A 2017 paper by Evans and Fitzgerald found that refugees to the United States pay "$21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their first 20 years in the U.S." [6] An internal study by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Trump administration, which was suppressed and not shown to the public, found that refugees to the United States brought in $63 billion more in government revenues than they cost the government. [5] According to University of California, Davis, labor economist Giovanni Peri, the existing literature suggests that there are no economic reasons why the American labor market could not easily absorb 100,000 Syrian refugees in a year. [68] A 2017 paper looking at the long-term impact of refugees on the American labor market over the period 1980–2010 found "that there is no adverse long-run impact of refugees on the U.S. labor market." [69]

Government entities Edit

As was stated earlier, USRAP is not in the hands of any one particular agency of the federal government. Rather, it is a collaborative effort among many different agencies and departments of the federal government as well as a number of nonprofit organizations. [70] According to the U.S. Department of State website, three entities make up the federal arm of the USRAP program: USCIS, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which is part of the Department of State and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. [70]

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Edit

USCIS is responsible for activities that could be termed the "legal side" of USRAP operations. For example, it processes applications for refugee admission to the United States and applications for permanent residency. It also issues documents that permit refugees to return to the United States after traveling abroad. [71] Although USCIS is involved in humanitarian efforts by virtue of its inclusion in USRAP, the organization plays more of an incidental processing role than a humanitarian one.

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Edit

As part of the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is primarily responsible for USRAP's operations abroad. [72] According to the Bureau's website, its roughly 130 staff members perform primarily pass-through operations where they do not work directly with refugees. Rather, they work through other organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and other various intergovernmental organizations so as to provide services to refugees. [72] The Bureau also processes applications for refugee resettlement to the United States. [72]

Office of Refugee Resettlement Edit

Whereas the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration primarily handles the foreign-based portions of USRAP and USCIS works with admissions and legal issues, the Office of Refugee Resettlement "provide[s] new populations with the opportunity to maximize their potential in the United States." [73]

The Office of Refugee Resettlement plays a particularly important role within USRAP. Bringing refugees into the United States and processing their documents is quite a different thing from assisting those same refugees in living and working in a new and foreign culture. This is the task of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Non-profit affiliates Edit

Nonprofits play a special role in USRAP. There are ten nonprofits appointed to work with the nation in either refugee referrals or in refugee resettlement. The nine non-profits currently working with USRAP are listed below: [ citation needed ]

These nine nonprofits have some 360 affiliated offices across the nation. Each nonprofit provides help for refugees to become self-sufficient after their arrival in the United States. Specifically, each nonprofit provides housing, food, clothing, enrollment in school, English language classes, employment, health screenings, and other public services. [74] The following descriptions detail the unique contributions of two of the USRAP-involved nonprofits: the Church World Service and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Church World Service Edit

Church World Service [75] works with eight different denominations, the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Along with the basic public services provided by every nonprofit, the Church World Service administers the Religious Services Program, a program which helps refugees continue to practice their religion in the U.S. (regardless of the individual refugee's specific religious practices).


HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) [76] works within the Jewish Communal Network Commission to provide basic services to refugees. [76] HIAS created the Refugee Family Enrichment program that addresses the problems a refugee family may face during resettlement. [76] As part of their resettlement program through USRAP, HIAS teaches communication and conflict resolution skills that help families work through the difficulties of resettlement.

Budget and funding Edit

During FY 2011, USRAP received $302 million from the federal government to fund its programs. [77] That number will increase by over 25 percent (to $417 million) in FY 2012 and then drop back down to $310 million in FY 2013. [77] According to the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, some of these monies are used to "[fund] ten public and private non-profit organizations to help provide initial services and assist refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible." [78]

Refugee eligibility Edit

According to USRAP, "A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group." [14] Once a refugee has fled their country into a neighboring country, there is a five-step process before they can be legally admitted into the United States of America. The process normally takes about eight months to a year. [14] Once a refugee has been admitted to the United States, it is the responsibility of the sponsoring organization to help them adapt to their new life. It is the hope that they will be enfolded into their community and become an asset to the country.

Cash assistance Edit

As touched on above, much of the literature on USRAP challenges the efficacy of the program's cash assistance efforts. A recent study conducted by Columbia University argued that the programs failure to take individual circumstances into account when providing cash assistance has led to most of the problem:

. The notion that every refugee needs the same baseline services that has persisted since the inception of the refugee program aligns poorly with the goals of self-sufficiency and integration in the medium and long term. This is especially true given the diversity of the refugees arriving to the United States and the diversity of circumstances they face once here. Refugees have little agency over what services they can access, and even volags [local programs] have minimal room to account for refugees’ individual profiles when deciding what services to offer. Instead . quick placement in employment is emphasized across the board, access to supplementary services and community support is determined essentially by lottery, and secondary migration is not accounted for. [79] : 11

This same article goes on to point out the varying degree of assistance from state-to-state creates a random allocation of assistance for refugees. Depending on their location, some refugees are given transportation assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) support, and local community assistance as well while other refugees are given the bare minimum of federal funding. This inequitable allocation leads to the successful integration of some refugees while others are left behind. [79] : 11

Employment Edit

The purpose of cash assistance is to help refugees find employment. This goal, however, is frequently not achieved. "…The cash assistance received was not enough to cover basic expenses and often ran out long before employment was secured." [80] : 20 One of the main issues with refugee employment is that there is simply not enough time or money to support a thorough job search. The time allotted for support is eight months, however, the paper quoted above claimed that in reality the support lasts six months or less. This lack of time and funding results in a push for quick, insufficient employment rather than full, sustaining careers.

Refugees are pushed toward short-term jobs, simply to get them employed. This ignores individual refugees abilities, past education, and professional experience. The reason behind this push is that the goal is not that of long-term self-sustainability, but rather of self-sustainability by the end of the "eight"-month refugee assistance. [80] : 25 The result is that the program turns into a machine bent on churning out integrated refugees. This method is inefficient because more refugees must then rely on the government over the long-term through welfare programs.

These short-term jobs have above minimum wage pay, but the average wage per hour for full-time workers obtained by refugees within four months of arrival was $8.67 in 2009. [81] : 24 This rate is insufficient for refugees who provide for their families. Many face eviction and eventual unemployment. [82] : 12 This quick employment issue greatly affects the refugees’ ability to be self-sustaining." [81] : 20 In fiscal year 2007, ORR’s performance data show that between 59 percent and 65 percent of all refugees receiving cash assistance from ORR’s four assistance programs entered employment within 4 to 8 months of coming to the United States. There are mechanisms in place to allow for refugees to transfer their professional degrees however, these transfers require recertification that costs as much as $1,000. [80] : 24

English language Edit

If a refugee cannot speak English, their job possibilities decrease. "The ability to speak English can greatly facilitate a refugee’s chances of finding employment." [81] : 27 USRAP does provide English language classes. There is, however, a wide array of problems with these classes: inadequate facilities, no longevity, poor teacher quality, and lack of transportation to classes. [81] : 27

Because of these issues, most refugees are not getting the English language training they need to achieve self-sustainability. The literature focused mainly on the problems with facilities and transportation.

According to Table 2, 58 percent of the incoming refugees could not speak English. This indicates that there is a great need for English language training among the refugees.

Because of the large percentage of refugees that need English classes, facilities are not expansive enough to cover the need. [82] : 20–21 As stated above, another barrier to English acquisition is the lack of transport to classes. Because refugees do not have a way to get to the classes, they do not go to the classes and thus they do not learn English. [80] : 23 "Limited funding means training provision typically stops at English language training during the early resettlement period". [79] : 13 This correlates directly with the refugee's ability to obtain employment. Approximately 90 percent of refugees who were living on government welfare programs did not speak English. [81] : 27

Health care Edit

In addition to employment assistance, USRAP is also responsible for the health, both mental and physical, of refugees entering the United States. According to our bylaws, refugee resettlement agencies are ". authorized to fund social services projects designed to provide, where specific needs have been shown and recognized by the Director, health (including mental health) services, social services, educational and other services." [83]

This responsibility becomes a problem when a high percentage of entering refugees have health issues. As the literature points out, this is a growing reality for the United States, "The number of refugees with chronic untreated medical and mental health conditions continues to grow. Needy refugees who do not qualify for Medicaid are limited to up to eight months of Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)." [82] : 20 There are reasons for why so many refugees suffer from poor mental and physical health:

Because the United States has admitted an increased number of refugees who have spent many years living in difficult conditions, such as refugee camps, a larger proportion of recently arrived refugees have health and other issues that make it difficult for them to work and achieve self-sufficiency. Because of these changes in refugee populations, [resettlement programs] faced difficulties in estimating the costs of serving newly arrived refugees, which, in turn, has affected the agency's unobligated balances. [81] : 2

Mental health issues are also on the rise because of the high number of Iraqi refugees being admitted to the United States. For whatever reason, Iraqi refugees have per capita higher instances of trauma and mental illness than other refugees. [84]

As one article posited, this rise in mental illness among refugees calls for better training for psychologists in working with diverse populations: "The diversity of the refugee population in the United States requires practicing psychologists to respond by adapting clinical services to meet their mental health needs." [85] Hopefully with better training, psychologists of refugees will be able to better address their specific health needs. USRAP has an obligation to improve health services for the incoming refugee population.

U.S. foreign policy issues Edit

At times, United States foreign policy has had negative implications for the lives of the refugees USRAP aims to serve. Although official United States procedure states that foreign policy should have no impact on refugee admissions, this has not always been the case. [86] : 393 For example, on September 11, 2001, a number of Afghan refugees were scheduled to arrive in the United States. Not surprisingly, those plans did not move forward. [86] : 391 Particularly troubling are the patterns displayed early after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. During this period, the United States greatly reduced the number of refugees admitted from both of these locations. This course of action (as one writer claims) was likely used to portray that the conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq "[were] improving." [86] : 392–393

This use of refugee admissions programs to further national interests is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Legislation regarding refugee admissions written after World War II excluded large numbers of refugees (including ninety percent of Jewish refugees) from being eligible for resettlement in the United States. [86] : 395 This treatment was justified by some because of fears concerning the refugees’ possible impacts on the American economy. [86] : 395 During the Cold War, the United States used refugee admissions policy largely as a propaganda tool in an attempt to discredit communism by granting asylum to those seeking to escape communist nations. [86] : 395–396

However, the interplay between United States refugee admissions and foreign policy is not entirely one-sided. A 2012 USRAP report to Congress states that United States involvement in discussions and actions concerning refugee resettlement have given the United States the opportunity to advance human-rights as well as influence other countries to be more open to accepting refugees. [87] The example given in the report is that of Bhutanese refugees. Because the United States offered resettlement, other countries demonstrated a greater willingness to accept refugees as well. [87]

Local government issues Edit

Along with its foreign policy problems, the literature points out that USRAP has had issues with its domestic policies as well. A report, Abandoned Upon Arrival: Implications for Refugees and Local Communities Burdened by a U.S. Resettlement System That is not Working, points out that local communities have confronted many challenges due to refugees resettlement. In the study, seven main findings were reported concerning the local resettlement communities.

First, the federal government uses "faith-based groups," for refugee placement. [88] : 8 The local communities that receive the refugees are not included in the decision-making process. Receiving new refugees into a community requires numerous resources from the local government, but these local governments are not given enough funding from the federal government. They are also not informed as to how many new refugees they are going to receive. This has been a heavy burden for the local governments.

Second, the refugees’ language barriers, caused by lack of adequate language instruction, prevent the refugees from communicating effectively concerning important issues such as health. USDHS conducted a study in 2008, showing that the better language skills refugees have, the better outcomes they obtain. [89]

Third, the local school administrators are frustrated that the poor performance of the new refugee students negatively affects the school's reputation. These schools are also upset that the government does not provide additional funding to assist or improve this situation. [ citation needed ]

Fourth, regardless of each refugee's situation in regards to education, health, or psychological background, the government has applied a "one-size-fits-all assistance" approach. [88] : 9 This impedes the local governments’ ability to accommodate the refugees according to their needs, and to prepare or teach them in areas that they are weak.

Fifth, while the Federal Government has increased funding for refugees, this does not fix the current problems. The extra money only creates a delaying effect on "the incidence of poverty." [88] : 9

Sixth, insufficient funding after initial support for resettlement has created a difficult economic climate for the local communities. Also, the fundamental structure to support the refugee program has not been proven effective. [ citation needed ]

Seventh, the federal government has established an ineffective resettlement system that imposes burdens on local governments. The current resettlement system not only is a burden, but also inhibits services for other refugees who have already been resettled.

In order to help the cities and refugees with these problems, this study suggests seven strategies for improvement: (1) ensure the local leaders involvement in decision making processes, (2) provide better language courses, (3) establishing strategies in education, (4) remove "one-size-fits-all assistance", (5) improve accountability, (6) search for innovative models, and (7) promote community engagement. [88] : 4–6

Administrative issues Edit

Program fragmentation and lack of cohesion among different agencies produces challenges unnecessary burdens for those who are intended to benefit from the program. [ how? ]

Failure to share information Edit

Many of these problems associated with USRAP begin with a lack of information sharing between the agencies involved. [80] : 36 Much of the information gathered from refugees is not shared between agencies to ensure that the placement meets the needs of the refugee. For the most part, this information is only used to assess refugee admissibility into the resettlement program. At no point during the resettlement process does a government employee or contracted party have the responsibility to investigate and report "the presence of a needs-related vulnerability for the purposes of ensuring post-arrival assistance. Instead, such information is only gathered to help support the individual’s persecution claim." [80] : 38

Similarly, medical examinations and interviews of refugees performed by the USCIS overseas are not used to determine the health and resettlement needs of the refugee. Rather, this information is used to assess the admissibility of the refugee. [90] : 10 In fact, resettlement agencies must make placement decisions before they even receive the medical records of refugees. [90] : 10

One of the most crucial factors to the success of refugees is where they are placed in United States. [79] : 10 Even though the most vulnerable populations are being targeted for resettlement, these vulnerabilities are not being communicated to the placing agencies. [79] : 11 No structured system exists in USRAP for the collecting and distributing of refugee information for planning purposes. [80] : 41 This failure to share information down the resettlement chain hurts the resettled refugees and the success of USRAP.

Failure to coordinate/monitor refugees Edit

Because critical information is not always considered when a placement decision is made, it is not surprising that many refugees leave the locations of original placement to look for better opportunities elsewhere. In many instances, refugees will seek out communities of fellow country-of-origin nationals. [79] : 16 Current legislation recognizes this secondary migration as a "natural and expected phenomenon." [79] : 16 However, there are no tools or tracking system in place to manage this phenomenon. [79] : 16 USRAP takes no measures in anticipating foreseeable trends in secondary migration by refugees. [80] : 35 When refugees move, they get lost in the system and their federal assistance money does not follow them. Consequently, these secondary migration refugees lose out on a part of their eight months of cash and medical treatment. [80] : 35 hi

The current literature offers many recommendations to improve the administration of USRAP. An information sharing mechanism could be instituted since none currently exists. [82] : 21 The PRM needs to expand the information it provides to placing agencies so that refugees have a better chance to be relocated in an area that will offer them the best possible care and services. [80] : 43 It has also been suggested that refugees be consulted on decisions that affect them so that services and placement can be tailored to their needs. [79] : 15

In addition, more than one article recommended that USRAP identify one lead agency to coordinate all the agencies and organizations involved in the program. [82] : 21 [80] : 43 This agency could then monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the program and establish consistent policies and procedures in the resettlement process. [82] : 21 This renovated system should be flexible enough to account for secondary migration. [79] : 16 Refugees should not be penalized with a loss of federal assistance just because they exercise their right to relocate. [79] : 16

In-Canada Asylum Program

The asylum program works to provide refugee protection to people in Canada who:

  • have a well-founded fear of persecution or
  • are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries

Not everyone is eligible to seek asylum. For example, people are not eligible to make a claim if they have:

  • been convicted of serious criminal offences or
  • had previous refugee claims denied by Canada.

1900 – 1939

Ukrainian Refugees in the Early 20th Century

Threshing on the Zahara homestead in Rycroft, Alberta, c. 1920s (courtesy Glenbow Archives/NA-3237-5).

1919–1939: After the First World War, Ukraine became embroiled in a bitter struggle for independence. The Soviet invasion, occupation and subsequent establishment of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919 created social and economic turmoil in the region. Thousands of Ukrainians fled to Canada, seeking refuge from religious and political oppression, and to escape the ravages of civil war. In 1932, a massive and devastating famine in Eastern Europe, called the “Holodomor,” forced even more Ukrainians to seek the safety and prosperity of the Canadian Prairies.

On December 23, 2007, Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption), came into force. The changes allow for the granting of citizenship to children born outside Canada and adopted by Canadian parents, without requiring that such children first become permanent residents.

Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, came into force on April 17, 2009. It restored or gave Canadian citizenship automatically on that date to many who had never had it or who had lost it due to previous legislation, and limited Canadian citizenship by descent to the first generation born outside Canada. Bill C-37 also contained an exception to the first-generation limit for children born or adopted outside Canada to a serving Crown servant (i.e., the parent who was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration, or the public service of a province or territory, otherwise than as a locally engaged person, at the time of the child’s birth or adoption).

Citizenship and Naturalization

Citizenship is a unique bond that unites people around civic ideals and a belief in the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Deciding to become a U.S. citizen is one of the most important decisions an immigrant can make. Depending on your situation, there may be different ways to obtain citizenship.

  • Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a lawful permanent resident after meeting the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Acquisition of citizenship is obtained through U.S. citizenship parents either at birth or after birth, but before the age of 18.

Explore the links below to help you determine what applies to you. Depending on your situation, there may be other requirements that you must fulfill.

Palestinian refugees and the right of return

Approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and became refugees as a result of the 1948 war which led to the founding of Israel. None of these displaced persons were ever allowed to return to the homes or communities from which they were displaced and the Palestinian refugee population has continued to grow in the time that has passed since 1948. Today there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees scattered around the world. The reality of Palestinian forced displacement is at the core of the Palestinian experience and the Palestinian refugee issue is at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This paper provides background information on the history of the Palestinian refugee issue and the politics of the right of return.

Who are Palestinian refugees?

A Palestinian refugee is any Palestinian who fled, was expelled, or was forced into exile from his/her home in the area of historic Palestine or who has been refused reentry to their home in historic Palestine after having traveled abroad during the period between 1948 and today.[i] The Palestinian refugee population now includes over seven million people.

The largest group of Palestinian refugees is made up of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes as a result of the partition of historic Palestine in 1948 as well as their descendants. As of 2014 this included approximately 5 million refugees who are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and an additional one million Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 but who could not or did not register with UNRWA for assistance.[ii]

The second largest group of refugees is made up of those Palestinians who were displaced for the first time from their homes and communities in 1967 as well as their descendants. There are approximately one million Palestinian refugees from 1967.

The third group of Palestinian refugees includes Palestinians who have been internally displaced, i.e. Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes or villages in 1948 and 1967 and who were not allowed to return to their homes, but who remain present in either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories. At present there are approximately 350,000 Palestinians who live within the post 1948 borders of Israel and who hold Israeli citizenship who were displaced from their homes in 1948 and who are still not allowed to return to their historic homes, villages, and land - all of which are located within Israel’s post 1948 borders. An additional 130,000 Palestinians are people or the descendants of people who were internally displaced in the occupied Palestinian territory as a result of the 1967 War.[iii]

Finally, there are an unknown number of Palestinians who have been expelled from or refused return to the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967. This includes people who have had their ID cards and residency rights revoked, people denied family reunification, and people who have been deported and exiled.[iv] This is a process that is ongoing in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel through the processes of land confiscation, forced displacement, home demolition, and the revocation of residency rights.

What was the primary cause of Palestinian displacement in 1947 and 1948?

It is often claimed that Palestinians left their homes in 1948 voluntarily or at the behest of Arab leaders. However, these claims are not supported by the historic record[v] which show that the vast majority of the 750,000 Palestinians displaced in 1947 and 1948 fled from their homes as a direct result of targeted violence and threats to their safety.[vi] Many Palestinians who fled attempted to return to their homes during or after the end of the fighting but were blocked from returning by Israeli forces.

The systematic displacement of Palestinians also began well before the UN Partition Plan formally went into effect on May 15 th 1948, which is the date that marks the beginning of formal hostilities between the Israeli military and forces from surrounding Arab countries. Violent conflict between Palestinians and Jewish forces began as early as November 1947 and continued unabated until May 1948. The early months of the conflict witnessed limited back and forth violence between irregular Palestinian forces and the much more organize Jewish forces including the Hagganah, Irgun, and Palmach.

The nature of the conflict changed dramatically in February and March of 1948 when Jewish forces began systematically depopulating Palestinian communities. On February 15 th 1948 all of the residents of the villages of Qisarya, Barrat Qisarya, Khirbat Al-Burj, and Atlit which are near present day Cesarea were forced from their homes. This was the first time during the conflict when villages were completely depopulated. [vii] The practice of depopulating and destroying Palestinian communities was turned into official government policy by “Plan Dalet” which was finalized by the pre-state Jewish leadership in March 1948. Plan Dalet outlined an explicit strategy for taking over Palestinian communities and expelling the Palestinian population, stating:

“…operations can be divided into the following categories:

- Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines and debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.

- Mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.”[viii]

At the point when the United Nations Partition Plan officially went into effect on May 15, 1948 between 250,000 and 300,000 Palestinians had already been expelled from their homes and communities, including most of the population of major Palestinian communities such as Safed, Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa. These numbers represent a majority of the Palestinian population that lived in the area designated for the establishment of a Jewish state by the United Nations Partition Plan. After May 15 th 1948 the War expanded and Israeli forces took over portions of the territory that was set aside for the establishment of a Palestinian state through the Partition Plan and expelled much of the population that lived in these areas. By the end of the war approximately 750,000 Palestinians had been made refugees and between 500 and 600 Palestinian villages had been depopulated. Many of these communities were later destroyed.

Why weren’t Palestinian refugees allowed to return to their homes after 1948?

The Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 were not allowed to return to the places from which they were displaced because their presence was seen as a threat to the maintenance of a sustainable Jewish demographic majority in the new state. This was made clear to AFSC during an August 9, 1949 meeting between AFSC employee Don Stevenson and Eliahu Elath, the Israeli Ambassador to the US. When Stevenson asked Ambassador Elath if Israel would accept the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes Elath told him that Israel would not because “Israel would commit suicide if she took back all the refugees.”[ix]

The reality is that without expelling the Palestinian population that was present in areas set aside for the establishment of a Jewish State by the U.N. Partition Plan it would not have been possible to establish a state with a distinct Jewish character and political culture. Jews were only a slim majority of the population (55 percent Jewish vs. 45 percent Palestinian) in the area proposed for the state. They also owned less than 10% of the land in the area set aside for the new Jewish state and were clear demographic minorities in both the northern (Eastern Galilee) and southern (Negev) sectors of the proposed state where they constituted approximately 30 percent and 1 percent of the population respectively. The Jewish population was only a majority in the middle (coastal) section of the proposed state, but even here 65 percent of the Jewish population lived in the two cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa meaning that Palestinians were the majority population in nearly all of the area set aside for the new Jewish State.[x]

Additionally, if the new state of Israel had attempted to keep the land that it seized during the1948 War while also allowing people displaced from these areas during the 1948 war to return to their homes the Jewish population of the new state would have been the minority population. The decision to prevent Palestinians from returning to their homes was therefore not motivated by a fear of violence by returning refugees, but rather was a decision made as the result of the Israeli government’s recognition that allowing Palestinian refugees to return would have turned Israel into a bi-national state with a Jewish minority. Israel could not have been established as a Jewish state without the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population.

Do Palestinians have a right to return to the places from which they or their ancestors were displaced?

Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were displaced is well established in international law. The first source of support for Palestinian refugees’ claims to a right of return is U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) Of December 1948, paragraph 11, in which the U.N. General Assembly,

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation…”

Since 1949, this resolution together with UNSC Res. 242 and 338 have been regularly reaffirmed by the U.N. General Assembly.

The rights outlined in this resolution are firmly grounded in international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Executive Conclusion No. 40, “…the basic rights of persons to return voluntarily to their country of origin is reaffirmed and it is urged that international cooperation be aimed at achieving this solution.”[xi] UNHCR’s support for the right of return is based on the idea that the right of return is a recognized customary norm of international law which is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Fourth Geneva Convention.[xii]

Where are Palestinian refugees currently located, and what rights are they granted in the countries where they reside?

The majority of Palestinian refugees continue to reside in either the occupied Palestinian territory or surrounding countries. Of the refugees registered with UNRWA over 40% (approximately two million) live in Jordan. More than one million (23%) UNRWA registered refugees live in Gaza, nearly 760,000 (16%) live in the West Bank, 462,000 live in Syria[1], and approximately 420,000 live in Lebanon.[xiii] Refugees not registered with UNRWA live in countries around the world, with some of the largest refugee populations located in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gulf Countries, Chile, and the United States.

The rights granted to Palestinian refugees vary from country to country. Palestinian refugees who are not registered with UNRWA generally hold citizenship, immigrant, or temporary resident status in the countries where they are located. Their legal status is usually consistent with other people holding their same legal status in the country where they reside. The status of UNRWA refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria is more complicated.

In Jordan nearly 95% of all Palestinian refugees have been given citizenship and are able to participate in Jordanian political and economic life. Most registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan (over 80%) also do not live in the ten UNRWA run camps located in Jordan.

On the other hand, most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live inside UNRWA run camps and their rights are severely restricted by the Lebanese government. They have not been granted Lebanese citizenship and are instead considered foreigners. They have almost no political rights and are denied many social rights including access to government run public services such as education, healthcare, and social security. UNRWA is the primary provider of these services to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are also blocked from obtaining employment in many professions.

Prior to the recent Syrian civil war, Palestinian refugees in Syria were integrated into Syrian society and were granted access to government services and employment. They were not granted citizenship however and their rights to own property were limited. It is important to note that many of the Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced as a result of the Syrian war and Palestinians who remain in Syria have suffered together with other Syrians as a result of the war.

Palestinian refugees living in the occupied Palestinian territory are subject to the same limitations on their rights as are all Palestinians.

What are the Israeli, Palestinian, US government’s and AFSC positions on the Right of Return?

Israel’s position on Palestinian refugees has not changed since 1948. The Israeli government does not recognize Palestinian refugees’ right to return and continues to say that Palestinian refugees and their descendants cannot be allowed to return to the homes and communities from which they were displaced because their return would be a threat to the maintenance of a continued Jewish demographic majority in Israel.

The United States government has not officially come out in support of the Israeli position and against the right of return. However, throughout the negotiations process US officials have pushed Palestinians to give up and/or make the right of return symbolic.

Palestinians continue to hold that the right of return must be addressed justly if the conflict is to be resolved.

AFSC also holds that Palestinian refugees’ right of return must be recognized and justly addressed if the conflict is to be resolved. Ending the occupation is not enough. If the international community is serious about resolving the conflict it must also recognize the central importance of justly addressing the issue of Palestinians’ right of return. Anything less is a denial of justice and will not resolve the conflict.

AFSC and Palestinian Refugees

Because of AFSC’s experience helping to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons following World War II, during the fall of 1948 the United Nations asked AFSC to organize relief efforts for refugees displaced by the 1948 War. AFSC accepted this request while putting forward a number of conditions including a demand that AFSC be allowed to provide relief wherever it was most needed. The U.N. as well as the Egyptian and Israeli authorities accepted AFSC’s terms. However, as a result of the quick advance of Israeli forces, AFSC’s field of operation was eventually limited to Gaza.[2]

AFSC staff arrived in Gaza in December 1948 and began coordinating relief and assistance efforts in January 1949. AFSC assistance included the setting up of camp structures, the establishment of health clinics, feeding operations, running schools, setting up other service structures, and the registration of refugees. This work continued until May 1, 1950 when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency began its operations.

Following the 1967 war, AFSC reestablished a presence in the occupied Palestinian territory, opening a child education program in Gaza and a legal aid center in Jerusalem for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. These programs continue as independent NGOs under Palestinian leadership. AFSC subsequently developed new programs in both Gaza and the West Bank and our work continues today in both areas through our offices and staff in Jerusalem and Gaza.

Regarding Right of Return, most recently AFSC has organized with Zochrot a conference on the Practicalities of Refugee Return held in Tel Aviv.

Learn more

The following organizations in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel address the rights of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons.

Al-Haq –

Al-Mezan -

The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem -

Palestinian Center for Human Rights

Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights –

The Boycott National Committee –

Adalah -

Zochrot –

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency-

About AFSC

Since 1948, AFSC has worked in the U.S., Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territory with Palestinians, Israelis, and other committed activists to support nonviolence, challenge oppression, and (since 1970) to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory. This work is guided our “Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace in Palestine and Israel”[xviii]. These principles support the implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law and call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory, implementation of refugees’ right of return, equality, and justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

[1] As a result of the ongoing war in Syria many Palestinian refugees who were previously living in Syria have been displaced again and are now living in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon.

[2] AFSC also provided some limited relief to Palestinians inside the new state of Israel who had been displaced and this work continued into the 1950s when AFSC ran agricultural development projects in Palestinian villages and with internally displaced Palestinians living in Israel. However, this work was quite limited in scale.

[i] Abu Shakrah, Jan, “Palestinian Refugees: A Discussion Paper”, AFSC’s Middle East Program, 2000

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