The International Rescue Committee: Federally Funded, but Working to Undermine Federal Policy

By Nayla Rush on November 5, 2019

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a New York-based non-governmental organization mostly funded by the U.S. government, is an outspoken critic of the Trump administration's refugee and asylum policies and has been looking at ways to circumvent them. David Miliband, a former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, has been the head of IRC since 2013. His annual salary in 2017 was over $900,000 (up $240,047, or 35.7 percent, from 2015). In 2017, almost 60 percent of IRC's funding came from the U.S. government.

CNN recently described how IRC was heading south to help asylum seekers who could not reach the United States because of this administration's new measures to limit asylum flows. IRC began providing assistance to asylum seekers "waiting under dangerous conditions" in Mexico, its spokesperson told CNN. Last year, it started providing "emergency cash relief and lifesaving information services in El Salvador to people fleeing violence" and plans on expanding this outreach to Guatemala and Honduras. IRC's director of immigration further explained how her organization is helping asylum seekers inside the United States by expanding its legal immigration program and adding lawyers who can provide direct representation in U.S. immigration courts.

IRC is one of nine "resettlement agencies" that work with, and are mostly funded by, the Department of State to resettle refugees inside the United States. IRC also acts as a resettlement support center (RSC), which is an overseas processing entity that collaborates with the State Department and is funded by it. RSCs conduct in-depth interviews with resettlement applicants, enter applicants' documentation into the Department of State's Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System (WRAPS), and send the information necessary to conduct a background check to other U.S. agencies. So the same IRC that screens refugees abroad and helps them build a case to submit to U.S. officials for resettlement also gets paid per capita to receive and place them inside the United States. There is a clear conflict of interest here.

For a previous post on resettlement agencies, I looked at two things: The share of their budget coming from government funding and the salary of the head of the organization, using publically available Form 990 federal tax returns (some were from 2016, others 2015). Some services provided, and government funds received, by these organizations may be non-refugee-related. For this post, I updated IRC's figures using 2017 public records. The results are listed below.

  • Contributions and Grants: $711,075,998
  • Government grants (contributions): $422,902,511 (59.5 percent)
  • Compensation: David Miliband, Director/CEO/President:
    • Reportable compensation from the organization: $861,209
    • Estimated other compensation: $50,587
    • Total compensation: $911,796

For comparison, here are the 2015 figures:

  • Contributions and Grants: $730,809,685
  • Government grants (contributions): $493,570,089 (67.5 percent)
  • Compensation: David Miliband, Director/CEO/President:
    • Reportable compensation from the organization: $671,749
    • Total compensation: $671,749

As mentioned above, Miliband and numerous members of his staff have been openly critical of President Trump's refugee and asylum policies. Here are a few examples (all emphases are added):

As early as January 2017, IRC called on its supporters to oppose the newly elected president's executive order on "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States", deeming it "irresponsible, immoral and un-American":

Oppose President's Trump's ban on refugees. …These changes fly in the face of our country's best values of freedom, fairness and compassion. ... Slam the door on hate. Oppose President Trump's unjust refugee Executive Order. ... Take Action. Call your members of Congress.

A few months later, IRC issued a press release applauding the Fourth Circuit ruling on the travel ban:

We are very pleased that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the Trump Administration's harmful order banning Muslims — including refugees — from seeking entry and protection in America, because it is blatantly unconstitutional. The courts have been key to preventing the enforcement of President Trump's hasty and harmful executive order.

More recently, Miliband called the asylum seeker crisis at the border "Trump's manufactured crisis". According to him, the U.S. government is "failing in its most basic responsibilities, never mind as a global leader but as a local example of how a civilized country should behave."

Meghan Lopez, country director for El Salvador at the IRC objected to the U.S.-El Salvador agreement (an agreement aimed at deterring the flow of migrants who want to come to the United States by requiring them to seek asylum in a Central American country instead):

The U.S. administration is attempting once more to turn its back on extremely vulnerable people. This is in contravention of America's laws, interests and values.

The U.S. government is funding an organization that is not only openly critical of its leadership and policies but is actively pushing to undermine them. Perhaps it is time for the Trump administration to reassess who will better serve its interests and is best deserving of taxpayers' money. As for IRC's leadership and moralizing calls to assist vulnerable people, the message would be more convincing if its personal gains were not so conspicuous. Charity, after all, begins at home.