Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Welcoming refugees with private sponsorship

In recognition of Welcoming Week 2022, this blog post highlights an emerging model of refugee resettlement that relies on private sponsorship rather than state government.

The usual process for refugee resettlement consists of state government and collaborations from recognized voluntary organizations (termed VOLAGs) to provide housing assistance, job training, and practical assistance accessing social services, setting up bank accounts, and enrolling their children in schools. Although not always described in these terms, it is an instructive example of pro-integration immigration federalism

The new model relies on neighbors, co-workers, faith groups, and friends banded together in "sponsor circles" to help refugees get settled in their communities. Within the US it has recently been used for Afghans and Ukranians and will be expanded through pilot programs under the Biden Administration. (It has been used successfully in Canada for decades and was tried in the US from 1987 to 1995. More background info here.)

Data on refugee integration outcomes is not yet available, but the sponsor programs carry the promise of expanding capacity after years of shrinking budgets and lowered caps during the Trump administration and COVID-19 (a promise set out in a 2021 executive order on rebuilding the US Refugee Admissions Program). It also invites direct engagement with immigrants from communities in the spirit of new governance. It can also avoid partisan interference with the admission of refugees, as happened when the former Vice President Pence sought to block refugees from resettling in Indiana during the Syrian refugee crisis. On the other hand, it outsources what has traditionally been considered a government responsibility to private choice and could lead to uneven support for different countries and in different parts of the country.


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