The Center for Immigration Studies hosted a panel discussion focusing on the Refugee Resettlement Program and its impact on states and localities. The starting point for conversation was the recent report by Center Fellow Don Barnett providing a history of the states' interactions with the refugee program and recommendations for better defining the state role.
Date: Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at 9:30a.m.
Location: National Press Club, Murrow Room, 529 14th St, NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.
Introduction and Moderator
Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and widely published on refugee resettlement and asylum issues, presented his recent publication, "Do States Have a Say in the Refugee Resettlement Program?"
Thompson is the President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which filed a lawsuit challenging constitutionality of the federal refugee resettlement program.
Johnson has served on the St. Cloud, Minn., City Council for seven years. He recently introduced a resolution calling for a moratorium on refugee resettlement in St. Cloud pending clarification of the fiscal impact.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Thanks for all of you coming on this rainy morning.
The 1980 Refugee Act that governs our whole refugee resettlement system now was passed after the fall of Indochina to the communists, which resulted in a large refugee flow. And so there was the desire to formalize and regularize the refugee resettlement process. And among other things, the Refugee Act says that resettlement, quote, “should be conducted in close cooperation and advanced consultation with state and local governments,” unquote. And also, as part of the Act, the federal government pledged that the state and local governments would not be left holding the bag from the costs of this federal program, that it would not turn into an unfunded mandate.
As you can imagine, none of those things have turned out to be true. And that’s the subject of our discussion today, the state and local impacts and state and local role in reality and the way it should be in this refugee resettlement process. And I think we have a really outstanding panel here to talk about these issues.
Our first speaker is going to be Don Barnett. He’s a longtime fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, has been writing on refugee resettlement and asylum issues for a long time, learned – was initially familiarized with the issue when he was working with the State Department in, among other places, the Soviet Union, back when that existed. And is the author of a report we just released recently – should be in your packets and is also online at the website CIS.org – entitled “Do States Have a Say in the Refugee Resettlement Program?” So that report traces the history of refugee resettlement under the Refugee Act of 1980, and the promises the federal government made to the states and how that’s not turned out the way it was supposed to turn out.
After Don makes his presentation, our next speaker’s going to be Richard Thompson. He’s president of the Thomas More Law Center, which is a public interest law firm in Ann Arbor that takes cases, you know, that are sort of, you know, nonprofit, noncommercial kind of cases that are important in a political sense. And the – what he’s going to be speaking about is one of the cases that the center – that his center has taken on, which is suing on behalf of Tennessee – the state of Tennessee precisely because of the federal government’s welshing on its commitments. Specifically – and he’ll go into detail on it – specifically that the way the refugee resettlement program is being run is in violation of the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, where the federal government is, as they put it, commandeering the resources of the states and localities for its own purposes. So Dick will talk some about that, and actually has some news, I think, from yesterday on the progress of that case.
And then, last but not least, we’re going to get a local perspective – not the state level, but the local level – from Jeff Johnson, who’s been on the St. Cloud, Minnesota City Council for some seven or eight years; has a resolution that he’s introduced before there – before the city council calling for a moratorium on refugee resettlement, where, you know, the State Department actually has – targets his city for a couple hundred or more new refugee – initial refugee resettlements from abroad every year. And so calling for a moratorium on that until they can get clear what the cost effects are. And so he’ll be talking some about his experience in Minnesota.
So, Don, you can start. And then, after everybody’s finished, we’ll have some Q&A and some discussion.
DON BARNETT: Thank you. Can you hear me OK?
In recent years about one out of five arrivals on a path to permanent residency have come as clients of ORR. That is, they were granted status on the basis of convincing someone they were a victim of one sort or another. ORR is the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services. The handout that I have in my packet called arrivals for ORR – arrivals eligible for ORR benefits and services shows that 182,000 arrived in 2015.
That would be refugees, asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, special immigrant visas from Afghanistan and Iraq, victims of human trafficking. This handout does not include unaccompanied children, which I add to my subtotal, which is another 34,000 ORR clients, to bring it to approximately one out of five coming here at clients of ORR. Granted, the unaccompanied children don’t quite have status yet, but I think most people would agree that they are on a path of permanent residency.
This is the latest data available. And it is out of date today. Some numbers are down, which we will discuss later, but some of these numbers are actually up a little. But it does – even though it’s a couple years old, it is the latest that we have. It does give a feel for momentum and the direction we were, and perhaps still are, going in. The U.S. refugee admission program is part of a set of international protocols which most of the industrialized West participates in and is not to be confused with the unplanned influx of asylum seekers and economic migrants that’s going on in Europe today. It’s talking about the formal program of refugee resettlement.
Since the 1980 Refugee Act, we have taken in an average of 80,000 refugees per year. In 2015, refugees came from 69 countries around the world. In each year of the Obama administration, except the last, the numbers were lower than the average over the previous life of the program. The president sets the admissions quota each year broken down by global region. Until the mid-’90s, the U.S. selected most refugees that came to the U.S. Today, about 95 percent of refugees to the U.S. are selected by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or are relatives of those selected by the U.N. in earlier waves.
So the U.N. is playing a significant role in U.S. immigration policy and setting immigration patterns for the future. When the Obama administration raised the refugee admission quota for fiscal year 2017 to 110,000 – a really great raise over his average. His average is probably about 75,000 a year. So it was raised to 110,000 on the way out. New Jersey, Maine, Kansas, and Texas formally withdrew from the program. Actually, however, this is a program that states can never leave. If history is any guide, those states that left the program – quote, “left the program” – are getting more refugees now than they would have had they stayed in. It’s not evident and it’s not on the radar only because the national quota was lowered drastically by the Trump administration. For 2018, his quota is like 45,000. Likely by the end of the year the number will be substantially less than even that. So it’s just not on anybody’s radar at this point.
By law, the president can zero out the quota if he wants, and a new president could increase it to 200,000 or higher. Really, there is no limit. Before that happens, it may be wise to look at reforming the program.
At least one reform of the program would fit in with the president’s goal of putting the federal government back in its proper constitutional role vis-à-vis the states. A single Clinton-era regulation issued in 1994 has thwarted states’ rights to withdraw from the federal Refugee Resettlement Program, a right that was anticipated in the 1980 Act like Mark pointed out.
The Refugee Act insulates states, as well, from costs in several ways. As the bill’s Senate sponsor, Edward Kennedy, noted in 1980, quote, “Because the admission of refugees is a federal decision and lies outside of normal immigration procedures, the federal government has a clear responsibility to assist communities in resettling refugees and helping them to become self-supporting. The basic issues here were the length of time of federal responsibility and the method of its administration. State and local agencies were insistent that federal assistance must continue long enough to assure that local citizens will not be taxed for programs they did not initiate and for which they were not responsible.” Unquote.
Further, he wrote a little later of the program, quote, “The program must assure full and adequate federal support for refugee resettlement programs by authorizing permanent funding for state, local, and volunteer projects.” Unquote.
Unlike other legal immigrants, refugees are eligible for all federal welfare programs on the same basis as citizens upon arrival. This is a lifetime entitlement for refugees who become citizens. The Act – and most of them do become citizens. They can. There’s nothing stopping them from becoming citizens five years after they’ve arrived. The Act authorized federal reimbursement to the states for three years of the states’ portion of Medicaid; of TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; SSI, which is a cash welfare program, Supplemental Security Income; paid on behalf of each refugee resettled in the state.
On average, states contribute about 37 percent of the costs for Medicaid. So that becomes a pretty hefty bill, that program alone.
The ongoing cost for support of refugees on public assistance is the biggest portion of the overall cost of the program. This is never accounted for in any official cost estimates.
The federal support for these state outlays on refugee welfare was gradually scaled back. By 1991, it was completely gone – no more support at all for the state part of federal welfare programs.
Some refugees do not qualify for federal welfare or Medicaid, depending on states’ requirements and their own means – the means of the refugee, that is. So an additional program was set up. That’s three years of support from ORR in the form of Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance for those who couldn’t get on Medicaid. For instance, Tennessee has a much stricter requirement to get on Medicaid than does a state such as Minnesota.
By 1991, this support was reduced to eight months. The resettlement industry makes the absurd claim that most refugees are self-sufficient after eight months in the country anyway, so it’s not a problem. They use ORR’s novel definition of self-sufficiency. In fact, a refugee can be in public housing, receiving Medicaid, food stamps – the SNAP program, that is – cash from SSI, and other welfare programs, and still be considered self-sufficient by ORR rules. Only TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – or Refugee Cash Assistance causes a refugee to lose a self-sufficient designation.
Most of the program cost of refugee resettlement is borne by the federal taxpayer, but substantial costs have been purposely shifted to state taxpayers over the years. To give an idea of what these costs are, consider the latest government study, conducted in 2015, for refugees who arrived in the previous five years finds a substantial dependence on public assistance. Even those refugees who have been in the country for five years, the study looked at those – you know, overall, the whole five years. Naturally, those that arrived last year are going to be more dependent than those that arrived a few years ago. But even those who have been in the country for five years – because they sliced it by that – by that category – those that have been in the country for five years have Medicaid usage rates at 33 percent, cash SSI at nearly 23 percent, food stamp usage at 60 percent, housing at 20 percent – housing assistance at 20 percent, and so on. There is a substantial cost to the state and local taxpayer for – as well as the federal taxpayer for this program.
By the way, traditionally almost all of these costs were the responsibility of the sponsoring agency. Until the 1980 Act, refugee resettlement was a work of true sacrificial charity, where sponsors and charities committed to maintaining and supporting the refugees with housing and employment, even Medicare – even medical care if needed. Refugees were not allowed to access public assistance. This helped assure assimilation and provided a natural regulation for the inflow.
This is no longer the case. The private sponsors morphed into federal contractors paid on a per-refugee basis. There are nine so-called voluntary agencies with 350 – approximately 350 affiliates around the country. They see their role as merely linking up refugees with social services and jobs. As a Senate report from the late ’90s headlined, “Abandoned Upon Arrival.” That’s basically what’s going on here.
Anyway, back to the side effects of the cost shift to the states of federal obligations. A Senate report in 1992 acknowledged that the decision to stop reimbursing states for the state cost of Medicaid and cash welfare was causing pain at the state level. Quote, “Some smaller states indicate they may eliminate their refugee programs entirely with such a cut in reimbursements. A consequence of such funding cuts is pressure to reduce the number of refugees admitted for resettlement. The prospect of these cuts has jeopardized the current refugee program.” Unquote.
Likely in response to rumblings from state government about getting out of the program, the Clinton administration promulgated Regulation 300.301 in 1994, allowing the resettlement contractor to continue operations in a state regardless of the state’s wishes. This arrangement allowed private contractors to operate independently without any input from state governments whatsoever. It guaranteed that a state could never get out of the program or escape its fiscal impact on state revenues. And it all came about by regulatory fiat rather than by statute.
I called about 15 state refugee coordinators to do this paper that I did on state rights in this area, and most of them said that at any rate they – the feds were not listening to their advice, but they felt like they had a little bit of control. And one state refugee contractor said – state refugee coordinator, which is a state position – this program is so complicated there’s little departments literally everywhere, but the state refugee coordinator is a state-level official. And this one said, no, we would never get out because we would lose complete control over it.
So Dick Thompson’s going to take it from here and discuss what one state has done to try to ameliorate this.
RICHARD THOMPSON: Thank you, Don.
First of all, what Don – the facts that Don just gave you are so important for you to understand the refugee resettlement problem. It reminds me of a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “You can’t be ignorant and free at the same time. It never was and never will be.” So it’s important for everyone to understand these figures so that you can place them in the context of what is going on in the legal issue that I am representing.
First of all, some days are diamonds, some days are coal. Yesterday morning I was sitting at the airport ready to fly into D.C., and all at once I get a(n) email on my phone saying the federal judge just issued an order on the refugee resettlement act that you filed and they dismissed the case. It was like I’m coming here to discuss my case and they’ve dismissed it. Now, it’s a 43-page opinion that took the judge six months to apparently draft and – research and draft, and I feel that I would be doing a disservice not only to the court but also to my clients until I really have a good understanding of what this judge was trying to do. And, of course, I think it’s filled with appealable issues.
The judge basically backed off because it was too controversial and ruled on the basis of standing of the legislature to bring the lawsuit, and standing of some very courageous individual legislators who put their name in the lawsuit as well. It reminds me of the tale of two legislatures. On the one hand, you have the General Assembly of Tennessee taking a strong stand, believing that the government is wrong, and yet not violating the rule that the government has set. They go into court through the due-process aspects of the case and make a case that this government is violating the 10th Amendment and the Spending Clause. On the other hand, you have the tale of a California legislature who says I don’t give a damn what the federal government says and they go ahead and violate whatever rules that they feel that they can get away with.
One thing to keep in mind: The General Assembly of Tennessee has an obligation to balance the budget every year, unlike the federal government. So the legislature has that. The legislator is – legislature is in control of the budget. An accurate way of describing what is going on here in the refugee resettlement area, it’s that the federal government is the ventriloquist and the states are the puppets. Whatever the federal government says, you have to follow or you’re going to face horrendous reaction.
One of the ways that we figured that the federal – that we could get into court and muzzle the ventriloquist was by a lawsuit using the advice that Chief Justice John Roberts gave in the Independent Federation of Business versus Sebelius, where he said, quote, “The states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.” OK. We took that advice. Tennessee is a part of the federal – the federal system, but it is also considered a sovereign. That was the case that we relied upon in bringing our case into the federal district court, saying the federal government is impinging upon the sovereign rights of the state of Tennessee.
I want to give you a real-life context of what this really means. There was an article in a Tennessee paper a few years back, in 2011, and the headline of this article was “Faith Matters: Catholic Charities Helps Somali Woman’s Family Transition Out of Chaos.” And they had this woman and 11 children, all minors, OK, and the story goes that eight of those 11 children were now getting prepared to go into the public school system. And they – you know, and the Catholic Charities that was responsible, you know, took some pride in getting these people ready for school and becoming Americans. In the shadows, in the background, while we were presenting this picture, there were 7,000 disabled children waiting to get special treatment in the welfare program because these children wanted to stay home with their families and friends. Although the federal government and the state gave them money as far as welfare goes, these programs that the children and the families wanted to get into were not mandatory programs. So, based upon the obligation of the legislature to make sure they follow the Medicaid rules, they didn’t take care of these 7,000 disabled children. They focused attention – because they would lose about – they would lose about $7 billion of state aid that the federal government was giving, they focused on what they had to do to keep that $7 billion.
And as Don said, unlike most immigrants, refugees don’t have to make a showing of self-sufficiency when they enter the country. When they come into the country, they are automatically able to get on the welfare rolls, get on Medicaid.
So at one point Tennessee, when it first started out, was voluntarily involved with the Medicaid program. But as Don has also explained, that at one point the federal government, like it does a lot of times, slowly backed out of federal funds, and pretty soon laid the onus of taking care of these refugees on the state. And the state bill kept on getting larger and larger.
One of the problems is it is so large we don’t even know what it is because we can’t keep track of all the benefits that these refugees get. For instance, the 11 children, they’re going to have to have translators. They’re going to have to have English-language training. When they get into court, they have to have a translator. And it goes on and on and on. And there’s hard – it’s very difficult to track those things.
So when the – when the reimbursements ended and the state of Tennessee had to take on more and more burdens, they decided that they were going to pull out. They did pull out, in 2008 – they thought they pulled out in 2008. The refugees still kept coming in, and the state taxpayers still had to foot the bill. And there was this question about if we stop supporting the refugees coming in, we are threatened with the loss of 20 percent of our state budget, $7 billion. And that’s important because if you lose $7 billion, 20 percent of your budget, the case that I discussed earlier or mentioned earlier, the Sebelius case, they said if you’re threatened with losing 10 percent of your budget, that you are no longer voluntarily getting involved with the refugee program; it’s coercion. It’s a gun to the head, OK? It is not a voluntary situation any longer.
I have to make a few things clear. The lawsuit that we filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee had as its sole aim to get the federal government to say what are the rights of the state of Tennessee vis-à-vis the federal government. The lawsuit was not intended to harm immigrants. It just challenged the ability of the federal government to force Tennessee to pay for something they didn’t want to pay. They were being forced to pay for a federal program with the federal government telling them what they had to do with state taxpayer money. And there are several cases on that, but, you know, it basically involved the 10th Amendment and it also involved the Spending Clause, because the courts have said the federal government can encourage states to do certain things, OK? For instance, if they want to increase the age of alcohol, the federal government can give states some money if they do raise the age of alcohol consumption, but that’s a slight nudge. They talked about, I think, a South Dakota case where it was only like one-half of 1 percent of the total budget that the federal government gave, and they said that can’t be coercion. But 10 percent can.
There’s two cases I want to discuss. One was the Printz case. It’s a 1997 case where the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that mandated as an interim basis local law enforcement agencies to conduct a background investigation for the Brady Bill. So they said, OK, we’re going to have this regulatory system where we’re going to control people that can get guns, handguns, but they placed the onus of doing that on sheriff’s departments and other chief law enforcement officers of the – of the state. So several law enforcement officers – chief law enforcement officers and counties sued the federal government. It was the Printz case, Printz versus United States. The Supreme Court struck down that portion of the federal law, and it said that by forcing state governments to absorb the financial burden of implementing a federal regulatory program, members of Congress can take credit for solving problems without having to ask their constituents to pay the solution with higher taxes.
And that’s one of the things that is happening in the Refugee Resettlement Program. As they pulled back – as Congress pulled back the reimbursement, they still could take credit for handling the Refugee Resettlement Program, but it was the state of Tennessee taxpayers that were being burdened by this new regulation. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion in the Printz case, and just a couple of quotes: “The state legislatures are not subject to federal direction. The federal government may not compel the states to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.” That’s what Justice Scalia said.
The other case was the case of the Independent Federation of Businesses versus Sebelius. In that case, the amount of money that the states would have to – would lose if they didn’t go along with the federal government was about 10 percent. And they said: “Permitting the federal government to force the states to implement a federal program would threaten the political accountability key to our federal system. The threatened loss of 10 percent of a state’s overall budget is economic dragooning that leaves the states with no real option but to acquiesce in a Medicaid expansion. Congress may not simply conscript state [agencies] into the national bureaucratic army.”
So, in the Sebelius case, they said 10 percent was “dragooning,” was coercion. In the case of Tennessee, we have 20 percent of their budget – their total budget – that could be lost, threatened if they didn’t go along with the federal government. And this judge basically said the only way Tennessee can really have standing to sue, which was the basis of it, is for Tennessee to violate the law, which creates all kinds of issues that I don’t think this judge really thought about. You violate the law. Just think what the ACLU will do with the number of lawsuits that will then be filed on behalf of refugees? Because there’s also state – federal law that says you can’t discriminate; if someone’s in your state and you give benefits to a certain class of people, you can’t discriminate against the other.
So, in conclusion, I just want to say the Supreme Court’s case of the NFIB – the National Federation of Independent Businesses – versus Sebelius squarely governs the case here. Unlike the federal government, the state of Tennessee must balance its budget. By this lawsuit, Tennessee is displaying constitutional responsibility to be a prudent steward of the state’s tax dollars and the welfare of all of its citizens. Thank you.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Dick. So, in the words of the song, a state can check out of the refugee program, but it can never leave. (Laughter.) Is that what it amounts to?
So now, for a local perspective at the city level, Jeff Johnson’s going to give us some comments. Jeff?
COUNCILMAN JEFF JOHNSON: Thank you, Mark. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to talk about some perspective from the local city level, so we’ll kind zoom in to St. Cloud, Minnesota. For those of you who don’t know where St. Cloud is, it’s a regional center. About 66,000 is the population. It’s about an hour northwest of Minneapolis in Minnesota.
I’ve been on the Council for eight years, so I’ve seen some – quite a few things develop over the years. St. Cloud is a refugee relocation city, along with Willmar and Minneapolis. And I want to say on my watch this really started brewing in St. Cloud approximately three years ago, where my constituents – I represent Ward 4 – started asking questions about the Refugee Resettlement Program, about why am I spending money in a program that I have no representation. This is a classic case of taxation without representation.
So this started to boil over time. And finally, last August I sat down with one of the VolAgs, which is Lutheran Social Services, that is the contractor for St. Cloud, along with the county commissioner and two activists that were very familiar with this program and very well-educated. And we sat down with four staff members of Lutheran Social Services and started asking questions. And from that meeting, I have to say I was – I was pretty upset from what I found out.
To summarize that meeting, what I saw, four things were occurring. One, we have a nonprofit religious organization, OK, taking federal dollars, and they were pocketing approximately $1,000 per refugee. The allocation’s about 3,300 (dollars), but they got to keep about $1,000 per refugee, OK? They were not being transparent with the public, and it got to the point where they actually had a deputy at the door monitoring who was coming into the meetings. And I said you need to open up these meetings because you’re using federal dollars, you’re a nonprofit organization, and to me it was becoming apparent that they were acting like a for-profit corporation.
So from that meeting there was a lot of confusion. The meetings were still not transparent. So finally, what led up to kind of a culminating event in St. Cloud was a resolution that I had introduced into the City Council in November. And it’s a simple one-page resolution. I call it legalized plagiarism: All I did is about two-thirds of this resolution was quoted right from the Refugee Act of 1980. And I’d like to read a couple parts. Mark mentioned it early on in the presentation; it’s so important I want to mention it again just briefly. And this is the actual language in the resolution. It says “Whereas the Refugee Act of 1980 states that 8 U.S. Code 1522(b),” quote, “‘The director’” – I’m talking about the Minnesota Office of Refugee Resettlement director – “‘shall develop and implement in consultation with representatives of voluntary agencies and state and local governments’” – that’s me, OK? – “‘policies and strategies for the placement and resettlement of refugees within the United States.’” The next paragraph has even more teeth from the U.S. Code: “Whereas the Refugee Act of 1980 states in 8 U.S. Code 1522(c)(2) The director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement will” – “will” is a pretty strong word – quote, “‘provide for a mechanism whereby representatives of local affiliates of voluntary agencies regularly, not less than quarterly, meet with representatives of state and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of their arrival the appropriate placement of refugees amongst various states and localities.’”
What was going on here in St. Cloud is Lutheran Social Services – and after kind of pulling some teeth I finally got their abstract to kind of find out what was going on – is they were going ahead with this process. And then, because I was so persistent, it was like show and tell. I’d show up at the quarterly meetings and they’d tell me what they did. My argument is that is a violation of federal law. That is not in advance planning, all right? This is show and tell. I’m finding out after the fact. So what was going on, this was feeding into the frustration, again, to the taxpayers, the people of Ward 4 in St. Cloud that I represent.
Now, this resolution deals with primary resettlement. It doesn’t deal with secondary migration. At no point in time did this resolution insinuate that we want to control someone who gets placed in Los Angeles or Fort Wayne, Indiana who wants to migrate to St. Cloud. That’s not what this is about. I’m dealing primarily with the primary resettlement number.
The saturation allocation for St. Cloud for fiscal year 2018 is 225 refugees. That’s what I was focusing on. And what I’m finding out here is – in St. Cloud is it is placing a burden on our services.
Now, what I’m seeing here is the county – Stearns County is the agency that actually doles out the various services, you know, like MinnesotaCare and those type of things, not the city. The problem here is St. Cloud is the largest city in Stearns County. We’re the county seat. You know, the citizens I represent, you know, we’re part of the county as well. And again, they are more concerned about their money being spent on the program without representation. And what’s going on is for quite some time the commissioners were saying go talk to the Council. The Council would say this is a federal issue, go talk to the congressman, go talk to the governor. Go talk to him or her. And again, I’m on the front lines dealing with the people. I’m it. I deal with everything from garbage to this issue here.
Now, it’s pretty clear to me early on that the resolution – this is not binding. As a councilmember, I can’t bind anybody. I can’t bind the city. Even if it passed, all it is is just advisory in nature. So some folks from the opposing side were very upset by this. I’m dealing exclusively with the economics. We had one gentleman by the name of Dr. John Palmer about three weeks ago – a retired professor, very gifted researcher – did a presentation on this, 20-page report, and he actually compared some of the demographics. In one community, they were a part – you know, they were resettled some years ago, and they actually assimilated very well into Minnesota. So he compared the Hmong community with the Mexicans and the Somalis. The Somalis are the biggest group part of the Refugee Resettlement Program. And he found, to no surprise, that the Somali community was dead last in terms of, you know, the highest amount of poverty, unemployment, things of that nature. And his conclusion is, is that as a state we ought to be embarrassed by this. I said this program, is it working? And we continue to take in more refugees.
One of the examples I use – I like boating and airplanes. Now, if you go on a cruise ship, you have to have lifeboats, and those lifeboats are U.S. Coast Guard-certified to hold a certain amount of people. Let’s say it’s a hundred people, and let’s say you’re out on that lifeboat and you have to put folks in because the ship just went down, all right? If it’s U.S. Coast Guard-certified for a hundred and you put in 104 survivors, no one’s going to give you a hard time. If you put in 800 survivors, the lifeboat’s going to go down and you’re going to kill everybody.
That’s the – that’s the example I use in St. Cloud with primary resettlement here. This is kind of after the fact and I’m finding out from this abstract that the proposed nationalities was Burmese, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, and Somalia. The latest report I got was about three weeks ago, so the first quarter allocation into St. Cloud, we only got 18 refugees. So, obviously, in the Trump administration, as – President Trump’s position on, you know, vetting refugees and stronger mechanisms seems to be having an effect in Minnesota.
So this is, you know, a very controversial issue in St. Cloud. And I think what’s going to happen is I believe that this is or could very well be the number-one issue at the voting booth in Minnesota this fall. I think, you know, the four councilmembers that are up for reelection, I think there’s going to be a real housecleaning.
Now, I serve at the will of the people. If the people don’t want me in there because I’m asking questions about the economics, that’s fine. You know, I like politics; it’s not that important to me. I’m not using it to go up the ladder somewhere. I use it because I care. So I have that attitude. But I think we’re going to see a real housecleaning, not only the Council but also some of our legislative reps and even the governor’s race. Our governor is retiring this year, so that’s kind of an open seat, too, as well.
So thank you.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jeff.
I just wanted to make one point that – just highlight research that we’ve done about a year-and-a-half ago on the costs of refugee resettlement in the United States compared to refugee protection in the countries that people are taking shelter in, like for instance in Turkey or Jordan, where Syrians go. And our research suggests that the five-year cost of resettling someone here is actually 12 times greater than the U.N.’s estimate of the cost of taking care of people in the country of first asylum. So that it’s – I mean, it’s – even apart from the burden on state and local taxpayers, it’s remarkably inefficient. And I would – I mean, I’ve submitted it’s actually immoral to resettle refugees when essentially we’re – to use your lifeboat analogy, if there’s 12 people who need a lifeboat, we’re sending one yacht that holds one person instead of 12 life preservers to, you know, take care of all 12 of them. So, just to put it all in context, even the idea of resettling refugees on a large scale I would submit is problematic.
So let’s open it up to questions. I actually had just a quick point that I wanted, I guess, maybe Don to talk about, is what are the grounds for refugees? Just sort of very – not in detail, but sort of what’s a refugee? What are the grounds? And how is it different from political asylum, specifically?
MR. BARNETT: Basically, a refugee is a person who is outside of his or her home country and is fearing return because of persecution based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or a particular social group. An asylum-seeker is a person who has gotten here on his or her own, either overstayed a visa or across the border, and claims asylum also on the basis of fear of persecution back home on those five grounds.
Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch have managed to place anybody that they want into any of those categories if they have to. For instance, you’re fleeing China’s “one child” policy, which no longer exists? You’re a political – a political category, considered. You’re a single mother from Guatemala? You’re considered a particular social group. A particular social group is a very broad category, as you could imagine, they could put anything into.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Kind of like a catch-all sort of anybody –
MR. BARNETT: Right.
MR. KRIKORIAN: – anybody can be classified as a particular social group.
MR. BARNETT: Just about.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, sort of right-handed people, you know, who have a face for radio –
MR. BARNETT: Just about. (Laughs.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: – like myself. I would be this particular social group.
So any questions or comments from anybody? Yeah, if you could identify yourself, too, please.
Q: Sure, Mark. I’m Paul Bedard with Washington Examiner.
For Don, you said 45,000 under Trump, but you think that’ll be substantially lower.
MR. BARNETT: Yes.
Q: What number do you peg it to be, and why?
MR. BARNETT: Well, first of all, any of those quotas are just targets. They’re – or ceilings. They’re not targets, they’re ceilings. They could come in at half that. And I personally think it’ll probably come in at half that. I think it’ll come in at 25,000 or so.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Because it’s running lower now.
MR. BARNETT: Based on – yeah, based on the traffic now. I mean, it could ramp up. It’s not going to come anywhere near 45,000. Let’s say 30,000.
Q: And the reason is something that’s being done that’s –
MR. BARNETT: Well, what’s done was the president used his prerogative to set a lower quota. And that’s part of the problem with the system, is the next president can come in and say, I want a million to come in. Generally, while there is language around congressional consultation historically – and I’ve heard this directly quoted – Congress doesn’t do anything. They basically take what the president tells them.
I think in the last few years there’s – with the Syrian immigration, there’s a lot more attention, and I don’t think they will avoid their responsibility as much in the future, but in the past they have. Basically, the president – the executive branch sets the number, and that’s it. They set the number and they set the global regions where – taking so many from Africa, so many from Asia, so many from Europe – with some input – definitely some input from Congress as to how we’re going to define who is a refugee, but not as much pushback on the actual numbers. So it’s simply because Trump said we’re going to cut the refugee quota down to 45,000. That’s the only reason why the numbers are lower.
MR. KRIKORIAN: I had a question for Richard, if you could just elaborate a little more on what’s the next step now. So at the district court level, the judge decided that you – Tennessee didn’t have standing –
MR. THOMPSON: Right.
MR. KRIKORIAN: – so now who decides whether you are going to appeal and sort of what are the next steps?
MR. THOMPSON: Right. Now our clients – or our client is the General Assembly of the state of Tennessee. They appointed four individuals to represent their interests with the Thomas More Law Center because we can’t deal with over a hundred people every time we need to make a decision. So the first thing we have to do is consult with the four representatives of the – of the General Assembly, give them our view – and I can tell you our view right now is – just by a scan of the opinion – there are a lot of – it’s filled with a lot of appealable issues. So our view is that we should appeal it.
Now, there’s different ways we can go about it. One is to ask for a rehearing. Now, what was interesting, we asked for oral argument in this case, and it was a very important case. The judge didn’t grant oral arguments, so the judge basically made this a very important decision on the briefs rather than having the lawyers attempt to clear up any kind of confusion he may have had on either side.
So the first thing is we’re going to decide – if our clients say go ahead, of course – we don’t – we’re not charging them, so the state of Tennessee isn’t out any money because we filed this lawsuit. They can say, yeah, we want to go forward with it, and we would relish that because we think that the judge is wrong. That’s why we have appellate courts, that’s why we have the Court of Appeals. We’d go to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Let’s say there’s a three-judge panel there, they rule against us. We’ll ask for an en banc hearing, which brings in more of the judges to make a decision, or we go directly to the Supreme Court of the United States.
I believe, if our clients allow us to go forward, this case could very well end up in the Supreme Court of the United States because we believe that this judge ignored their decision in the Sebelius case, and that was what we were relying upon.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Richard.
Let me – I had a question for Jeff. Are there other communities in Minnesota you guys have talked to because presumably there’s other places that are primary refugee resettlement places in Minnesota? And at the state level, have you gotten any feedback? Has the governor’s office or whatever – I mean, are they hostile to your concerns, are they sympathetic? How is that working?
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: Well, I’ve been in contact with Willmar – it’s the other relocation city – and there’s a lot of chaos there, too, as well. Also, some officials down in Rochester. That’s the home of the Mayo Clinic, too, as well. So I’m seeing issues there, too, as well.
Unfortunately, at the governor’s office, it’s been more or less silent. The governor was in St. Cloud a year and a half ago, and he basically made a comment that if you don’t like it, you can leave. And that was very hurtful – that everybody – even –
MR. KRIKORIAN: So he was saying that to the Americans, not the refugees.
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: He said it to everybody in the room, and there was actually Somalis in the room, and – the reports I got that even some of the Somalis kind of grimaced when they heard that. (Laughter.) That was not helpful for a governor to say that, so sadly, that actually, I think, fed into the problem and it didn’t help heal matters.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Good. Thank you. Any – yes, ma’am?
Q: I want to thank –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Hold – there’s a microphone – just a second.
Q: Hi. I want to first thank all of you for sharing this morning, and – I mean, I really do hear a lot of fear and frustration, concern from each of you, from your respective positions.
Jeff, I just wanted to clarify because I – forgive me, I’m not familiar with the makeup of the City Council of St. Cloud. I think – I just want to clarify two things you said. One, I think you said that 18 individuals arrived as refugees this federal fiscal year.
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: Fiscal Year 2018 – ’18 into St. Cloud was the report.
Q: Right. Right. And I think we’re almost halfway through the year because it starts in October, right?
MR. KRIKORIAN: That was the first quarter.
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: First quarter.
MR. KRIKORIAN: He said October through the end of last year.
Q: Ah, OK, OK, great. Thank you, thank you.
But also you made a pretty stunning statement – could be a housecleaning – but I don’t know what you mean because I don’t know the makeup of your Council. Can you just clarify?
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: Housecleaning – I’m talking about the election this fall. As you know, the November election is not far off any more. There are seven Council members and there’s – the four ward Council members are up for reelection, and I’m on the – and from what I’m hearing, at least from my constituents – the frustration that we’ve been at you for three years, this resolution – I was the only one that brought this resolution, the only one that supported it because there is so much fear going on. What I’m seeing from the constituents is kind of like, fine, we’re going to start voting you out, and we’re going to move right up into the legislature, our local area members. I think there’s a lot of frustration toward them, too, as well.
So I’m seeing it – really, I’m really seeing it in St. Cloud, but I think Willmar – they’re on the same track we are, and Rochester. I can’t speak for some of the small, rural areas in northern Minnesota but, you know, in terms of the budget, it affects the whole state.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Another – oh, yeah, did you have a question?
Q: You said that – 18 in the first quarter of this year?
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: Eighteen refugees were resettled in the first quarter, Fiscal Year 2018, which started October.
Q: How do they decide who gets these refugees because I’m looking at the Pew Research Center for 2016, and they indicated that in 2016, when 84,995 – I think it was – refugees were resettled, none went to Delaware and none went to Hawaii. So –
MR. BARNETT: And none went to Wyoming. (Laughter.) And none –
Q: Right. Ten went to – right. Wyoming and Arkansas and D.C. got a handful, but yeah. How is it that they decide who gets whom?
COUNCILMAN JOHNSON: You know, that’s a good question. I’m still trying to get an answer to that.
At the last quarterly meeting, you know, I looked at the list, and the proposed – you know, the caseload here is the five countries: Burmese, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya and Somalia. And the report I got is we got some folks from Somalia, which is on the list, but also some folks from Afghanistan, which is not on the list.
MR. BARNETT: Yeah, it’s the feds, and – working with the voluntary agencies, working with the nine main contractors. They work it out at – they get together and they – literally as they come in, they place them.
Q: So do they place them where the contractors are or –
MR. BARNETT: Yes. They place them where a contractor already is, and they look for high welfare states, states with generous Medicaid requirements and so on. So –
MR. KRIKORIAN: And with relatively low rent, too. That’s also another issue.
MR. BARNETT: Right, jobs – and they do look for jobs, too. In fact, jobs is really big. They really look for low-wage jobs for these people to fill, yes.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir, in the back. Wait for the – wait for the mic.
If you could identify yourself, too, please.
Q: This is Jim Simpson, Center for Security Policy.
And all of those decisions are made when the voluntary agency fills in something called an abstract, and that abstract details all of the various attributes of the given place that they are targeting. And a big part of that – although clearly not the only part – but a big part of that is whether or not there is people actually living there from the same, you know, area, so it has like family reunification issues as well.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you. Up here.
Q: Kausha Luna with the Center for Immigration Studies.
This is for Mr. Thompson. Who is the defendant on the case?
MR. THOMPSON: The complainant on our case?
MR. THOMPSON: It’s the general assembly, it’s the two senators, legislators – John Stevens and Terri Lynn Weaver, and it’s the state of Tennessee, which is being represented by the General Assembly.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And whom are you suing? In other words, who is the defendant?
MR. THOMPSON: Oh, who are we – we are suing the State Department, we’re suing Health and Human Services, we are suing the director of ORR. We didn’t sue the president because I think he’s on our side – at least politically he’s on our side, and I remember hearing him during the campaign. We should do away without – we should do away with the Refugee Resettlement Program in the United States. We should have safe zones in the area where these refugees come from. They’ll be better taken care of, and I think you indicated, Mark, that’s a lot more cost-effective.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Right, yeah. Thank you. Any other questions? Yes, in the back. Hold on, wait for the – wait for the mic. And if you could identify yourself, too, please.
Q: Sure. My name is Ashley. I am a journalism student at GW, and I actually worked with UNHCR in the past.
My question is, economics and political reasons aside, do you think it’s important that the United States government and states take in refugees and provide resettlement for them?
MR. BARNETT: I think there’s definitely a place for refugee resettlement, and it should be more or less on a case-by-case basis rather than on a group basis, and it cannot be a massive number. So I definitely am supporting refugee resettlement – meaning bringing some people in that literally have no place to go; you know, a reporter who has reported on something that, you know, has now got them in trouble with the government, things like that – but not necessarily group influx, especially where there are regional solutions that are available which we could – in the past we’ve bypassed that when it was just waiting to happen to bring people in.
So I – I’m generally a supporter, but of a smaller program than we have now. Plus, we see it grows – we see that it has potential to grow. There are so many humanitarian immigration programs now, not just the refugee program.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And if I could add something, too, the point of refugee resettlement should be a last resort for people who literally cannot stay where they are for a second longer. The UNHCR itself prepares a report about all the people that it refers for resettlement, to here or to Australia or Europe; in other words, all the various refugees that it refers for resettlement, and it classifies them as to how urgent their cases are. And the emergency cases – which, in my perspective is really the only people that should be considered for resettlement – the emergency cases – this was in 2016 – accounted for 0.4 percent – 0.4 percent of all the people they referred for resettlement. Those are the people who should be resettled.
Don has actually written on this issue of regional solutions. There’s this really telling example of the Somali Bantus. These were people from Somalia whose ancestors were enslaved by the Arabs. They were captured by the Arab slave traders further south in Africa, and then they – and brought to Somalia. And their descendants are still considered, frankly, sub-humans by the Somalis themselves. Somalia doesn’t want them.
A lot of them ended up outside Somalia as a result of all the chaos over the past couple decades. Somalia didn’t want them back. They said, you know, they’re your problem now – to Kenya or wherever they were.
Interestingly enough, Mozambique and Tanzania, the countries where their ancestors were kidnapped from by the Arab slavers, were willing to take them back but wanted resettlement assistance. They wanted some money so they could properly resettle these people. Instead, the State Department said, no, no, no, we’ll just bring them over to the United States.
It’s an absurd idea. So the whole point of refugee resettlement should not be virtue signaling on the part of the United States, which unfortunately too much of it is, but rather last resort protection for people who have no other options, so.
Let’s wrap it up here. I appreciate everybody coming. I can’t speak for the guests, but I think they probably would be willing to be accosted afterwards.
This video, we’re broadcasting it live now, but also will be on our website for people to watch in the future. Again, CIS.org is our web address, and we hope to see you at our next event.
Thank you. (Applause.)