The Obama administration and a coalition of U.S.-based refugee advocacy organizations are working to create a pilot program which will allow American citizens to pay to import refugees to the United States from the war-torn corner of the world of their choice.
The adopt-a-refugee U.S. program, if it becomes a reality, will make it possible for Americans to provide cash for the refugee’s airfare, lodging, clothes and various other immigration costs, reports the Chicago Tribune.
Obama’s State Department and the Refugee Council USA, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations which specializes in resettling immigrants in the United States, have been hammering out the details of the program for about three months.
“It puts Americans in the driver’s seat,” Matthew La Corte of the libertarian-oriented Niskanen Center told the Tribune. “It allows them to say ‘I have a spare bedroom. I was thinking of buying a new car but I’ll instead take that $10,000 and put it toward bringing a Syrian refugee over.”
The program is modeled after a well-established Canadian program which lets individual Canadians and assorted private groups furnish “emotional and financial support” to refugees for a year.
In the last 11 months, Canada has admitted 11,700 privately-sponsored Syrian refugees — and 31,000 Syrian refugees overall.
“We are deeply impressed with what Canada has been able to achieve in welcoming refugees, especially in the past year,” Mark Storella, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for refugees and migration, told the Tribune. “We have been learning a great deal from our Canadian colleagues and are eager to benefit from some of their lessons learned.”
Refugee Council USA director Naomi Steinberg said her concern is that private donations for U.S.-based refugee resettlement might mean less money from American taxpayers for refugees.
“The only private resettlement program that we could support would be one that increases the number of refugees who arrive in the U.S., while at the same time maintaining and even strengthening the U.S. government commitments,” Steinberg told the Tribune.
Congress currently allots $3.1 billion each year for refugee assistance programs.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that the United States will allow 110,000 refugees from countries around the globe to enter the United States in 2017.
Private-sector support for refugee resettlement around the world is gaining steam. In September, for example, Hungarian-born leftist billionaire George Soros revealed that he will be spending as much as $500 million to resettle refugees in peaceful locales around the world.
Several large corporations including Goldman Sachs, United Parcel Service and Airbnb have also promised to support refugees with either cash or free services.
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, suggested he could support a plan allowing private funding for refugees.
“I would certainly be open to considering a program partnering refugees with U.S. sponsors — especially if it would cut down on the financial burden for American taxpayers,” Vitter explained in a statement. “The administration needs to significantly increase its verification safeguards before we open anything up further.”
In August, GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of Donald Trump’s chief advisers, called Hillary Clinton’s plan to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted into the United States in 2017 “stunning and extreme.” The plan will lead to more terrorism against Americans, Sessions predicted. (RELATED: Jeff Sessions Says Clinton’s Syrian Refugee Plans Will ‘Result In More Terrorism’)
“Hillary Clinton’s plan to admit 65,000 refugees from Syria next year is radical and places America at great risk,” Sessions said. “Her goal is disconnected from reality. This surge would be nearly 40 times the number of Syrian refugees entering the country last year, and six times the number President Obama admits this year.”
Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has described Syrian refugees as “Trojan horses” for terrorist activity, the Tribune notes.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this year shows that 56 percent of Republican voters believe that immigrants are a net burden to the United States. Nearly 70 percent of Trump supporters describe immigrants as a burden, according to the poll. On the other hand, Democrats overwhelmingly support providing an avenue for amnesty for at least some illegal immigrants and believe immigrants provide a net benefit to the United States. (RELATED: Poll: 60 Percent Of Americans Don’t Want Donald Trump’s Wall)
Supporters of refugee resettlement in the United States say they have seen a groundswell of support in recent months for helping refugees. “They say ‘I want to be able to help a refugee and help them achieve the American dream,'” Jennifer Quigley, a spokeswoman for Human Rights First, told the Tribune.
Refugee-relocation supporters say they have seen increased support after a heartbreaking 2015 photo of the body of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi starkly demonstrated the refugee crisis in human terms.
U.S. immigration law allows the president to establish the number of refugees who can enter the country annually.
The State Department is supposed to screen refugees.
The ongoing civil war in Syria has managed to displace millions of people worldwide, and has led to intense battles about immigration policy in many Western countries.
A privately-administered program similar to the one the Obama administration is contemplating existed for a short time in the United States in the 1980s. Then, the Reagan administration used privately-funded measures to admit approximately 16,000 immigrants to the United States — mostly Cubans and Jews from the Soviet Union.