Experts discuss the role faith-based organizations have taken during the refugee crisis and the challenges of aiding and resettling refugees in the United States and abroad.
CANNY: (In progress)—since they’ve raised that as the primary issue, I think it will satisfy to some degree those concerns. I’m not sure that it will satisfy perhaps the concern that something needs to be done about newcomers coming to the United States, which was sort of an underlying theme of the campaign. But looking at the refugee program, and also the small percentage of refugees who are resettled—you know, less than 1 percent of the 20 million refugees around the world actually are resettled, and a fraction of that to the United States—I think reason will prevail.
AMOS: Bob, you’re the most likely to know and the least likely to be able to say.
CAREY: Right. I’m a little constrained in what I can say at this point, but after January 20th I might—(laughter)—speak differently. But I think, you know, the U.S. refugee program I think is the embodiment of our humanitarian traditions and define—and who our best selves, who we are as a country. And I’m hopeful that the next administration will continue that tradition. It has enjoyed support through Republican and Democratic administrations historically—very strong support—and is an integral part of both our humanitarian tradition and foreign policy.
We are working right now to prepare briefing materials for the incoming administration and view this as an opportunity to brief them on the extraordinary work that is done through both faith-based and non-sectarian organizations in over 300 communities across the U.S., where we’ve resettled over 3 million people in the last 15 years. And I think they have proven to be great sources of both economic strength to communities and contribute greatly to communities across the U.S.
So it’s a noble tradition. It’s one that I think we believe enriches our country culturally, economically, and in many other ways. And is—the U.S. role in resettlement of refugees is one that other countries have historically emulated. So it has implications not only for our own country but for the global response to refugees. So I think we’re very hopeful and we look forward to working in the transition process.
AMOS: Are the numbers each month steady through? I mean, usually there’s a bulk at the end of the fiscal year. We just started a new one. Are the numbers steady?
CAREY: They are. I think they’re at this point roughly 20—it’s on the State Department website. But the number that was announced as part of the presidential determination in October was 110,000 refugees. And I believe we’re somewhere above 25,000 as of this week. So the first quarter reflects that 110,000 ceiling, or closely approximates it.
HETFIELD: So I think it’s important to just define what we’re speaking about here. I mean, there are two types of refugees who come into the United States. There are those who come here either with a visa or without a visa, seeking asylum. Those too are refugees. But they are not subject to any kind of a number. Those who come to the U.S. and seek asylum, like those who come to Europe seeking asylum, are—must be given protection.
What we’re talking about today is the U.S. refugee program, which is a program where the United States actually goes to countries of first asylum and interviews refugees, vets refugees, and then brings them to the United States in cooperation with nine private agencies, six of which—six of which are faith-based, one of which is mine, which is HIAS, which is the Jewish organization that helps refugees. One is Bill’s, U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.
But this is a program that has been going on in this public-private partnership since 1980. It’s been a very important way for the United States to show the world that we view refugees as a strength and that we welcome them to our country. And so we really hope that while the president has a great deal of discretion to end this program, that it will continue, because it makes such an important statement to the world that refugees are a strength, they’re not something to be afraid of.
AMOS: Anwar, Syrians who—refugees who come in in January, and those who are already here, are they worried that there will be no family reunification for them, that this is the end, the door is closing?
KHAN: There’s concern and there’s fear. What I’m most—I believe there will be a refugee program. I’m not sure how inclusive it’s going to be. We heard on the campaign trail about only letting in Christians, not letting in Muslims from Syria. The vast number of the refugees around the world come from majority Muslim countries. So we believe that there will be assistance, but we’re concerned there may be a religious test. And in the case of Syria, the concern is that it will be completely eliminated.
AMOS: The test cases in courts have turned that back. It’s unconstitutional to make a religious test, or even a nationality test. But still there’s fear in the Syrian community.
KHAN: They’re not aware of that. What they hear on TV and on the campaign trail is what they’ve been going with. They don’t know what the Establishment Clause is. They don’t know every line of the Constitution.
AMOS: Fair enough. Mark.
HETFIELD: I mean, Deborah, I would also make the argument that it would be unconstitutional to exclude Syrians, or exclude people on the basis of their religion or their nationality. But the fact is that the refugee program really acts outside of the United States. It acts outside of the sphere. So while it may be unconstitutional, it would be very difficult to bring that—bring a case.
AMOS: I want to ask Anwar, you know, this is an interesting day to be having this panel. We are watching a terrible tragedy in east Aleppo for civilians there. There has been a continuous bombardment of eastern Aleppo, a—you know, a ceasefire that fell apart, and now an evacuation plan that fell apart overnight. And I wanted to ask you, Anwar, do you think that we will see many more refugees coming out of that conflict, moving towards the Turkish border? And what is the status of your own people, who are working in Aleppo now?
KHAN: Today I remember coming up from Washington, D.C. reading the Facebook post about how upset people were and dismayed. I’ve felt like that the whole year. This has been a horrible year. So we know what’s going on in Aleppo. We know what’s going on in Madaya. Aleppo is just bringing our attention to a crisis that’s been—it’s a slow-moving tsunami. It’s destroying lives. There are many humanitarian workers that are stuck in Aleppo. They have made a choice that they are not leaving. We are concerned that they will be slaughtered. There are others who want to leave—but who are male under the age of 14 who want to leave. If they’re lucky, they may be conscripted into the Syrian Army to fight against their brothers and sisters. Or they may be slaughtered. This is what’s going on.
And as a world, we saw this happening. We know what is happening. And as the international community, it is—I believe, as the whole community, we have blood on our hands. And all of this about us being concerned now, we know what slaughter is happening. I remember hearing again and again: Never again, never again. This country turned back Jewish refugees in the 1930s that came to flee the persecution of the Nazis. Some of them went to die in concentration camps. We are repeating our mistakes. We make Hollywood films about it, we say how horrible it is, but we talk about it. And I really wanted to mention that there are some people here in the Jewish community that get it and have been talking about it a lot.
We should look at our history. This massacre that we are worried is about to happen. We knew Srebrenica was about to happen. We only acted afterwards. There is no talk now of acting after Aleppo. I remember the Bosnia crisis. I know what happened in Chechnya. I know what happened in Bosnia. When the images came about people dying in the marketplace, President Clinton acted. In the first case, militarily, in Bosnia. No one’s talking about helping the people of Aleppo. We are watching them die. We are watching their tweets. And that little girl is no longer sending tweets. Maybe she’s not alive. We heard about Anne Frank’s diary. That came out afterwards. Heard about other people’s diaries. This is live. We are watching a massacre in slow motion live.
AMOS: Anwar, there was some talk overnight of 40,000 people leaving Aleppo. Do you see this as another refugee wave?
KHAN: You’re going to get many waves. Within Syria you have a large number of IDP. For me, in Islamic Relief USA, my organization, our priority is for the IDPs inside Syria. They, we believe, are the most at risk. After, when we talk about refugees, it’s 20-odd-million refugees. But there’s another 40, 45 million IDPs. We are concerned about the people inside Syria the most. Then we’re concerned about those in Jordan, Lebanon, and other places. I’m not so concerned about Zaatari as I am inside not only Aleppo, Idlib is the next on the list.
We have an office in Idlib. I visited our work inside Idlib. There were bombers flying overhead and kids were running away. That’s one of the few offices in the world where we’re not able to put our name on the office because we know it will be targeted. We know doctors have been assassinated. We know the reason why the clinics are underground over there is because they’ll be bombed.
So we have been sending supplies into Aleppo, medical supplies. Clinics have now been overrun. Those people, we don’t know what’s going to happen to them. We don’t know what’s going to happen to our staff and other organization staff right now. So we are praying and we are wondering why people are concerned now, and what have they been doing this whole year, when we knew we could have done something about it?
AMOS: Anwar, you are pointing out why a refugee program in America is so crucial. And I want to bring it back to the theme of this panel, which is putting faith in humanitarian aid. And I want to ask each one of you why you think that it is the faith-based communities that have taken such a prominent role in refugee resettlement in America, and then I’m going to ask you why they don’t have a louder voice, as the program was so battered during the campaign. And let me start with you. Why is it that it is the faith-based community that takes such a large role?
CANNY: Well, certainly all of our traditions and the books upon which they’re based call us to be welcoming to strangers, to take care of our neighbors. I mean, it’s a core value of our faith—certainly the Christian and the Catholic faith. So that’s critical. And acting out, by way of welcoming refugees, has been an honor for the Catholic church in this country over the years. And joining with other faith-based and, you know, non-faith-based groups together has been critical for expressing who we are as Catholics. So it’s an expression of our faith and something that we hold dear.
I think during the debates we were in fact present. We joined together in what we call Refugee Council USA. We set up, you know, campaigns of communication to try to certainly debate the rhetoric that was going on. We had faith leaders going into governors’ offices and saying: No, we will take the Syrian refugee. We will do it. We understand that you’re telling us we shouldn’t. We understand you may not provide services. But we will take the Syrian refugee and we will make sure that they are taken care of. So this is the kind of action that our leadership has taken, even during the campaign.
AMOS: Bob, I know that your old organization, the IRC, does resettlement. It’s one of the few non-religiously based organizations that does so. Now in your current position, could America’s refugee program—we take more than any other country in the world—but could it function without this faith-based community?
CAREY: I don’t believe so. You know, the majority of the agencies are faith-based. It’s part of the foundation of the program is the engagement of civil society actors. There is government funding for the program, but it is also heavily reliant on private contributions and a volunteer network of many tens of thousands of people across the United States who donate not only goods and services but generously of their time in support of refugees. And I think that’s a major part of why the U.S. program has been so successful by many, many metrics. It’s because there’s engagement of volunteers and faith-based communities in communities across the country.
And there’s a personal welcome that’s part of the U.S. welcome. It’s not just a government response. It’s also a person-to-person response, a human engagement through faith-based communities and others. And that is why people become integrated so quickly, go to work quickly, and I think also are emulating the traditions of giving back to their communities. You do see it’s not as heavily reported as we would perhaps like. Refugee communities, Syrians and others, who are—Iraqis, many who are many giving back to their communities, who are assisting in disaster response, who are welcoming the newer refugees, who are following that tradition of public service and volunteerism and are very much becoming a part of that fabric of engagement.
AMOS: The Canadians do it a little differently than we do. They have private resettlement. Is America ready for private resettlement, considering that there is such a network, and it’s a strong network out there, of churches, mosques, synagogues who are already doing a lot of this work?
CAREY: I think the U.S. effectively already does private resettlement. There’s a lot of talk about the Canadian model and the U.S. model. And in reality, the U.S. model is a hybrid, which involves both government actors and—at the state and national level, and community level—but also is completely reliant on private contributions. The funding that exists from the federal government would not support the program as it currently exists.
CANNY: And the government actually expects in its formula that we, as agencies, develop private initiatives and bring private support to the program. It’s actually measured and expected. So it’s a unique partnerships.
CAREY: And much of—sorry. Much of the innovation of the program is driven by either individual donations or philanthropic dollars. So some of the very innovative programs that have been created in the U.S. program, whether it’s around psycho-social services, services to torture victims, early childhood education, have been initiated through private philanthropy, and are emulated not only through government program—(audio break)—
AMOS: (Audio break)—that in this country? So if you had a notion one morning that I’d like to support a refugee, there’s no place to go look, unless you went down to your church or mosque or synagogue?
CAREY: Well, I think—and my colleagues might speak better to this through their—
AMOS: Mark, is there a way for people if they want to get involved?
HETFIELD: Yeah, of course. I mean, maybe it’s not quite—maybe our website isn’t quite as sleek and unified as it is in Canada, but we have nine different private-public—private agencies, six of which are faith-based. All of us have websites. All of us, you go onto the website, we will tell you how you can connect to refugee resettlement. We’re resettling refugees all around the country. And Bob’s absolutely right. We already have a private system. It’s a private-public partnership.
AMOS: Anwar, there’s been quite a few Muslim refugees that have come. And the churches and the synagogues always need your partnership, because somebody has to take these people to the mosque on Friday. Has it changed and opened your relationship with other faith-based communities as the refugees arrive?
KHAN: There’s been a change in the last couple of years. We thought in the past that we weren’t invited to the table with the other faith-based partners. And then we found out maybe it was because we were a bit too shy to come. They’ve been very welcoming. They’re very helpful. We’ve been working with—we are not one of the nine VolAgs, but we have been talking. We were hoping to become one of the VolAgs, but everything changed at the beginning of November.
AMOS: This is this inside language, it’s a voluntary agency, VolAgs, for all of you who want to know.
KHAN: Voluntary agency. So what happens in the VolAgs work with them initially. And then normally we work through the mosque and other partners. So often we wouldn’t use our name here in America. We use our name overseas, but in America we work through local partners. And it depends. Some of the, the Muslim communities are active with the local VolAgs. In other places, they feel that they’re not. So it’s a mixed result. And I think that’s more due to local faith-based organizations than the national leadership. But we found the national leadership of the faith-based organizations, of the VolAgs, to be very friendly, to be very welcoming to us.
And I also wanted to mention in particular some of the Catholic bishops who have spoken out. We need people of faith to speak out. It makes a difference. When one faith is being attacked, sometimes we are concerned that if we do speak out it’s going to hurt, not help. This is where we are right now. We are concerned within the Muslim community if we say something it’s not the same as if a Catholic bishop says it. It’s not the same as if a Jewish organization say it, our Sikh and our Hindu friends in office. When they speak out on our behalf, that counts different than when we do. And we need to speak out on other people’s behalf too. This is really a test of our faith.
So we’ve seen in one case one of the Catholic bishops going against his governor. So do—
AMOS: That was in Indiana.
KHAN: Yeah. So do you report—who is the highest authority? Are they here to make the governor happy or to make God happy? The pope’s been very clear where his allegiance is. So we’re really asking the Catholics in America, you have these examples of the bishop of Indiana, of the pope. To me, again, I’m not a Catholic, but I think the leadership of the Catholic church is very clear where they need to be going.
AMOS: Do you find, Anwar, that the refugee issue is becoming an issue between—and I’ll just say this because it’s our phrase—between church and state, meaning between faith-based communities and the state?
KHAN: I’m worried that—I’m hoping that the faith-based communities will speak up when they see injustice. What I’m more concerned is, it’s about color. If you look at the elections, general the Roman Catholics who were white voted in one—for one party, and those who were Latino generally voted in another. The same with the Evangelicals. I think it’s more to do with color than it is to do with faith when we’re talking about immigration, unfortunately.
AMOS: Mark, you’re shaking your head yes?
HETFIELD: Yeah, absolutely. I do want to say that our community—and in the dark days after the Paris attacks last year, when the—when 31 governors came out against Syrian refugees coming to their states—I was very proud of my community’s response. The Jewish community, through HIAS, issued a letter signed by nearly 1,300 rabbis saying it’s absolutely vital to keep the refugee program open and to keep our doors open to refugees. We had a similar response in Texas when the governor of Texas declared that he was pulling out of the refugee program a few months ago. We got almost every reform, reconstructionist, conservative rabbi in the state of Texas to speak out, as well as a number of orthodox rabbis, against that decision.
So, you know, the Jewish community is certainly—and are all the communities of faith—speaking out. The problem is that not that many people are listening outside of our communities. The refugee issue finally got traction this year, after the body of Alan Kurdi was photographed and appeared on the front page of every newspaper and on the internet. Finally our cries, it seemed, had been heard. The Obama administration finally started to prioritize refugees.
There was a summit held here in New York, actually two summits, on December 19th and 20th—one convened by the secretary-general, one convened by President Obama, bringing heads of state in just to talk about the refugee situation and migrants. That had never happened in the history of the United Nations. So finally this was getting some attention and some momentum, which is five years overdue. But unfortunately, we don’t know what 2017 has in store for us.
AMOS: Bob, in the State Department, do you feel that pressure of a constituency that is pro-refugee?
CAREY: Well, I mean, within Health and Human Services—
AMOS: I’m sorry, of course.
CAREY: We work closely with our colleagues in the State Department and we’re in daily communication. We certainly see a lot of engagement, and as much as there is the rhetoric that has, unfortunately, received more traction perhaps is the negative. But we see demonstrations and positive feedback across the country daily. You know, it’s really—and it’s humbling to see it. You know, you see, as my co-panelists have said, you know, people who regularly work across religious lines. And that’s not a new phenomenon. You know, whether it’s the Catholic church of synagogues across U.S. working with Muslims or Baha’i or, you know, you could—many faiths, many nationalities, and its’ a rich mix. And there’s an extraordinary degree of support. What I think has—unfortunately, it hasn’t received the attention in the public realm that it perhaps deserves, less positive rhetoric.
AMOS: Can I ask—and we’ll start with you—is there—we heard during the campaign that there was quite—it was—became a wedge issue, this notion of refugees. Do you think that the anti-refugee constituency, do you think that they’ve gotten stronger or weaker after the elections?
CANNY: Well, it was one of many wedge issues. And I just—while I agree, racism is a—is a horrible blight continually on us, and particularly soft racism or institutional racism. I think the election, we have to recognize, put wedges a bit into urban and rural America. I think that, you know, there was a lot of discussion about people of fear of others, you know, based on racism but based on others also. So I think we have to recognize that we have a—those of us who, you know, were surprised at the election have to be careful to recognize, there are lots of other tendencies within our culture that we need to recognize and look at.
Has it increased since? We have seen certainly after the election some permission, perhaps, by groups to treat others in hate crimes. We’ve seen—and this is documented by human rights organizations—our own organizations track this. We’ve seen a little uptick vis-à-vis our offices. So I think there’s been a bit if a permission, perhaps, to show distain for the other that is something that we need to obviously recognize and combat. And I think we have to recognize fear.
AMOS: Mark, you’re shaking your head. You have specifics on pushback that’s gotten worse?
HETFIELD: Absolutely. I mean, see—our refugees are now scared. The ones who are resettling in communities are now afraid of their neighbors, there’s more incidents of bullying, there are more incidents in schools where refugee kids are going. There definitely is an uptick in hostility toward refugees. It’s something that needs to be addressed.
AMOS: Mark—I’m sorry—Anwar.
KHAN: I’d just expand that too there’s a fear amongst the whole Muslim community. We feel it’s not just against refugees. The imam was assassinated here in New York with his assistant imam. A woman was burned over here for wearing the hijab. Another one was kicked down the stairs last week. The amazing thing with the last one it was actually recorded on someone’s phone. So we are—we are worried that this is not just against refugees, but this is also against Muslims. That’s our concern.
AMOS: This country has had the largest refugee program in the world. We resettle more—70(,000) to 80,000 a year. There was a bit of a drop in numbers after 9/11. It has been a fairly quiet program. It just goes on. You in the faith-based community pretty much do it without any fanfare. Why do you think that there’s been such pushback? And it’s been a successful program. Certainly—I mean, you can look at the numbers of—there’s been no incidence of anyone being arrested for terror-related crimes. Why do you think at this juncture that there is—this has become so politicized?
CANNY: I think it’s clearly a symptom of our growing bipartisan politics over the last years.
AMOS: But refugee resettlement started out as a Republican program. It was a Cold War program.
CANNY: And it has always had bipartisan support. I think the divide has gotten so large that we have an inability of our political establishment on both sides to talk to each other in a constructive way. I think this was one of a number of issues that became part of that battleground, unfortunately.
CAREY: I just—I think also there’s a great deal of misinformation out there about the program right now, that for whatever reason gets an enormous amount of traction. There’s a perception that refugees are not heavily vetted. In fact, they are the most heavily vetted individuals entering the U.S. under any status. But that, I think, if you asked most people, they wouldn’t know that or understand that. So there are a lot of myths that have been perpetuated in some corners of the media, and are not born out. We, within HHS, in concert with our colleagues at Homeland Security and State Department have been doing a lot of public outreach, as have others. I’ve met with governors both individually and collectively, state legislators. We’re on the Hill regularly, and providing briefings about the program. And that has, I think, had some traction, but not as much as one would hope.
HETFIELD: Yeah. We’ve seen this before. I mean, this is not the first time in our history that this has happened. And this is one reason why my community feels this is such a priority. And what we’re seeing now is what we saw in 1921. You know, in the Jewish community, there were over 2 million Jews who fled a genocide in Russia between 1881 and 1921 to come to safety and freedom here. Then the U.S. slammed the door shut because America was becoming too Jewish, and too Italian, and too ethnic, imposed national quota systems, required people to get permission overseas before they could come over here. And this was all under this guise of America first, that we were afraid of the problems in Europe coming to the United States. We were sick and tired of being dragged into Europe’s problems. So we decided, enough already, no more of these people that are threatening to bring those problems with them.
The thing is, they were all fleeing those problems. They weren’t trying to bring them here with them. They were trying to get away from those issues. And we’re seeing the exact same reaction today, where we don’t want the problems of the Middle East coming to the United States. And so there is real, genuine fear out there. the problem is that the politicians are exploiting that fear. And the facts don’t matter. The facts that Bob just explained are absolutely true—that refugees are vetted, upside down, right-side up, forwards and backwards. More than any other immigrant group is, more than any other visitor group is that comes into this country. And yet this small group of less than 100,000 people a year are the ones who are being blamed for everything that is threatening this country. And it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s just pure scapegoating.
AMOS: Is it that refugees have been conflated with immigrants, legal and not? And they’re the easiest ones to target?
HETFIELD: Yeah. I think they’re an easy target. Unlike students, they don’t have a university lobby behind them. Unlike professional workers, they don’t have a business lobby behind them. They’ve got us, us nine agencies, six of whom are faith-based.
CANNY: And unlike any immigrant community, they don’t have a community, if you will, behind them. They’re all overseas, suffering, persecuted, waiting to come to the country.
AMOS: From different places.
HETFIELD: Right, because immigrants are coming to the United States. Refugees are fleeing form something else. So they don’t have a natural constituency here that politicians will listen to. So it’s very easy to say these Syrian refugees are a threat to us.
AMOS: Anwar, does this feel new and different, or do you think that the lessons of 1921 are the same?
KHAN: I think we’re repeating the mistakes of history, I really do. And we don’t have an excuse. This is an educated country. We have the internet. We can just go up—if we don’t want to read any books anymore—just go on the internet and see what happened. Mark, mentioned—you mentioned 1921. Again, I mentioned the 1930s. And in 1921 it wasn’t just Jews that were stopped. It was—there were many Arabs that were coming. They were stopped too. The civil rights happened in the ’60s, and the year after the civil rights bill immigration changed in this country and we stopped being so institutionally racist.
So we have to understand where this is coming from. And, again, I wanted to go back. I feel that there is a lot of scapegoating and the other. It’s us and them. We saw that in Germany in the 1930s. We’ve seen that in other authoritarian governments. I’m not saying we have one. I’m saying if you look at the lessons of history, you shut down the press, you intimidate the press, you intimidate civil society. These are the lessons. Now, we in America have been speaking against that around the world.
So we need to look back in our own history. And I will say that when we have done our best is when we have helped refugees, when we have helped people in need. At the same time, in World War II, when we fought against the tyranny of Nazism, we still had internment camps for Japanese in America. We’ve often done our best and our worst at the same time.
AMOS: Thank you. I would like to open up this conversation to members. Remember, this is on the record. If you would state your name and affiliation and a short question, please, I will try to get in as many as I possibly can.
Q: Thank you. I’m Stephen Kass. I’m teach at Brooklyn Law School.
The president-elect has often proclaimed his commitment to going to church at Marble Collegiate Church here in New York. My question is whether or not, to your knowledge, anyone associated with Marble Collegiate Church has spoken out along the lines you’ve mentioned, or has spoken privately to the president-elect. And do you think it would help if such a person did?
CANNY: Not familiar with the church or the president’s attendance—the president-elect’s attendance.
AMOS: But there are certainly Evangelical groups, correct, that are very pro-refugee, and not just black ones, but white churches in the south, correct?
HETFIELD: Right. I mean, one of—one of the partner agencies is World Relief, which is the Evangelical and also the Church World Service, which is the arm of the mainline Protestant movement. So, yes.
AMOS: So there is a religious component that are base voters. All the way in the back.
Q: Thank you. This is Carl Manhali Silek (ph). I’m with national public broadcaster in Turkey. (Coughs.) Excuse me.
I spoke with a lot of refugees who came from Syria to the U.S. And many were jobless, many didn’t speak English, and many thought they were left out of society. Can you tell us about the process, when—after they come here, what happens to them? Do you guys find jobs for them? Do you find shelter? Do you find language courses? How do you integrate them once they are here? Thank you.
CANNY: We have a very prescribed and developed program, picking families up at the airport, already knowing something about their needs. Housing is ready—this is the nine agencies, again, I speak of. Housing is already prepared, or transitional short-term housing. We know the age of the children. We’ve cited schools that they can go to. There are programs that we work with the public school system and other schools to put children in. Extra English classes are already developed. And all of the agencies have these services for folks. And one of the most important, health care. An initial health care examination is done for all the family within 30 days. Again, we all have relationships around the country doing this. And then one of the most important components is finding jobs for those who are able to work. And within a few months, our rate is approximately 75 percent. I think with six months, refugee adults who are able to work have jobs.
AMOS: Mark, I’m sure you can speak to this, the notion that you have to work because your benefits run out. It’s a pretty brutal program, honestly.
HETFIELD: Right. Right, right. It’s a tough love program, where we are really looked at based at how quickly we can get people employed. And I think maybe what you’re speaking about—because actually we’ve been having quite a lot of success getting Syrian employed. But we had more than half of last year’s arrivals arrive in less than three months—the last three months of the fiscal year. So it was a little bit more difficult to get them—you know, to get them toward self-sufficiency, because we were just so overwhelmed with all these arrivals at one time. Normally it’s a lot more even.
AMOS: Mmm hmm.
Q: Hi. I’m Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist U.N. Office. And I’m also a former State Department officer and refugee coordinator for West Africa.
My question is about—we’re talking about legal refugees and asylum seekers. I want to see if I can get some comments on DACA. I actually have an intern in my office. She’s a graduate student at Columbia University, very smart. She was in absolute tears the day after the election because she’s afraid she’s going to be deported immediately. Some cities, like New York City, and even the state of California, are calling themselves sanctuary states or cities to protect the undocumented migrants, many of whom, like my student in office, are very well-integrated, doing very well in America, obviously making a tremendous contribution to this country. Are we really going to abandon those people?
AMOS: It’s not the expertise, but I’m sure that they know about it.
CANNY: Well, actually, part of my office I developing migration policy for the Catholic bishops, who are very concerned about this. The first thing the bishops did was to declare December 12th, a couple days ago, Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of national prayer for undocumented migrants and refugees in this country who are fearful, children who are like your colleagues, younger children afraid to go to school, afraid that their parents will be taken back to another country, families separated, very intent on dealing with this issue. On DACA, very successful program as far as, you know, everyone can tell. We were happy to hear that the president-elect recently said, you know, this is not our target. You know, you’ll be happy with what we do.
So there seems to have been upon examination—this is what we hope in many of the areas, a recognition that this program is successful. There is some legislation being developed to try and reinforce legislatively this executive action program. So we’re hopeful for DACA. And we’re hopeful that as we go forward immigration reform will and must be part of the solution that this administration comes up with in the coming years. We must deal with the many undocumented migrants who live in the shadows and make such a great contribution to America.
Q: Gayle Kerwin (ph), NYU Medical School.
I know this isn’t necessarily the topic and the expertise on the panel, but I can’t help but go back, you know, to Mr. Khan’s beginning, opening. And so we are currently watching in slow motion a genocide basically in Aleppo. Is there anything you can do in the roles you do play and the organizations that you do run to do something? What could we be doing now? What should the Obama administration, in the 35 days he has left, be doing currently? I mean, day by day we’re losing hundreds, thousands, possibly, of children and women in Syria.
KHAN: I work for a nonprofit. We have to be neutral. We’ve been asking for the international community to protect human rights. It’s been on deaf ears. We’ve been asking for humanitarian corridors. We’ve been asking people to allow people to be evacuated and not be slaughtered—everything you’re saying. People haven’t listened. We will still carry on saying the same thing. So we will continue to ask for decency and international human rights law to be abided by.
But it doesn’t seem to be that people are listening. So we won’t stop talking. Our staff won’t risk their lives—stop risking their lives. We lost five staff from a partner organization in Aleppo in September. We lost two of our Christian staff in northern Kenya helping Somali refugees the next month. We have our staff risking their lives in Syria. And when we went over there, we know every one of our staff members who’s over there inside Syria risks their lives. And this has been going on for some time.
So we will continue to fight the good fight whenever we can within our realms. My question is really you in the audience, what are you going to do about it? That’s my question. We are really doing whatever we can. We spent years trying to do what we can. We have journalists. We have other people who have access to politicians who don’t have the same constraints that we do. What are you doing about international human rights law? What are you doing about protecting decency and life inside Syria, or anywhere else?
What did we do for Srebrenica? What did we do for Rwanda? How many more of these do we have to do? Is it once a decade? Because I think was in the ’90s, and then a few years later we had Rwanda. Is this a massacre that we watch? We need to speak up. And I remember a phrase that the prophet Muhammad said: If you see something wrong, you change it with your hands. Five years, we haven’t changed it with our hands. You can’t change it with your hands, you change it with your tongue. We can all do that. And if you can’t do that, at least in your heart. And that’s the least form of faith—and we’re talking about faith today. So I believe in a higher power. I believe in God. I believe that this is a test. It’s not just a test of the people in Aleppo or Syria. It’s a test of our humanity too.
AMOS: Sorry, you’re next.
Q: Oh, I’m sorry.
AMOS: It’s OK.
Q: The microphone—
Q: My name is Steve Robert from Source of Hope Foundation.
And, one, I have a tremendous respect for what all of you do, and I’m sure under the most difficult circumstances. My father was an immigrant to this country from Russia in 1921. And he escaped—managed to escape from the Ukraine into Poland. And he told me all his life it was only because of HIAS that he got from Poland to the United States. So I have a personal gratitude for the work that all of you do.
But I think you’re in a very difficult position for this reason, we all are: You have to be perfect or there’s an enormous crescendo of public opinion against you. So you can have 100,000 immigrants come in and if one or two create some type of terrible act it creates a backlash as though all immigrants were horrible. Now, it’s not fair, because any group of 100,000 people is going to have some bad actors—whether they’re immigrants or whether they were born here, or whatever.
But what do you think of a strategy—because these things are inevitably going to happen. Some immigrant, some group, some religion is going to do something bad. And how do we push back against the millions of people saying I told you so, we don’t vet these people enough, we don’t—we have to restrain immigration? Because it seems to me, that’s going to be one of the hardest parts, or is one of the hardest parts of your job.
AMOS: Can I push back one minute? And I’m going to ask all you as the expert panel here, is there a case of a refugee committing a terrorist act? I mean, is even the premise of the question not quite correct?
HETFIELD: It happened two weeks ago. I mean, it happened at Ohio State. I mean—
AMOS: Was he a refugee?
HETFIELD: He was refugee-like. It almost doesn’t matter if he was a refugee or not. What I’m saying is that what you’re saying—
AMOS: They were not refugees?
HETFIELD: Right, they were not, but again, it doesn’t matter because there’s a perception. But there are some refugees who do bad things. I mean, you know, refugees aren’t perfect. They’re not better than the rest of us. They’re like everybody else. They’re people. There are bad ones and there are good ones. The U.S. government bends over backwards to make sure that only the good ones come in. But you can’t predict that with 110 percent security. So, yeah, it’s an issue.
And frankly, Deborah, with all due respect, I blame the media for this, because—(laughter)—
AMOS: I’m not the media, so that’s OK. (Laughter.)
HETFIELD: OK, OK.
AMOS: I’m just mine, whatever I do.
HETFIELD: Because if I’m a refugee and I go to Ohio State and I start attacking random people, I’m going to get tons and tons of coverage all over the country, in every newspaper, on every internet site, right? If I’m a refugee who comes here and finds a medical cure or just gets a job and supports my family, I don’t get any coverage, you know? We’re covering only the one in 500,000 bad refugees and not paying attention to those who are doing great things I this country. I mean, that’s the problem.
And that’s what we’ve seen throughout 2016, is the media has such power, and they wield is very irresponsibly. So we need to figure out how to harness that power in a way that makes refugees not look greater than they are, but look like the people that they are who have fled for their lives and who are here not to create terror, but to give—be able to put their kids at night and assure their kids that they’re going to be able to wake up in the morning and go to school, and not be afraid of getting killed.
AMOS: OK, you first, lady in the pink, and then all the way—
Q: I’m Sarah O’Hagan. And like a lot of people in this room, I have an association with the International Rescue Committee.
The week after the election there was a piece on NPR about the refugee resettlement program and the fact that it was by design originally an under-the-radar, low-profile program that did not seek to be well-known, even in the communities where refugees were being resettled. And that over the decades it has been enormously successful.
And that one of the problems perhaps, for the incoming administration and the president-elect, was a misunderstanding about the basic premise of the—of the program, that if you aren’t self-sufficient within 45 days that you have to repay your plane ticket, that the success of people getting on their feet is really kind of herculean. And so if the media isn’t covering it—although, NPR is—what about PSAs? What about a paid advertising campaign? You say that, you know, you will continue to speak up, but I just, you know, question whether you’re being heard, and what some solutions might be to amplify.
KHAN: Oh, no, we’re not being heard. I’m not questioning it. You might be heard, though. The rest of you may be heard. We’re saying very clearly, we have been talking. We will carry on. The only people who might hear us are people like yourselves and others. And we need you to speak up. We ourselves have partnered with IRC. We’ve held in Maryland, Virginia with the refugees and others. People of different faiths, we’ve worked with a program with IRC. It was also they put a dollar in, we put a dollar in, the government put a dollar in, and they were able to buy their own house.
We have refugees—Syrian refugees in New Jersey and Seattle that are helping homeless U.S. Army veterans in a day of dignity program that we do in different parts of the country. I had the—we had last year the Sunday—a conservative British newspaper reported it. Not one American media outlet reported it, but a British one did. There is a comedy show in America that is going to be reporting on it, when it’s mean to come out this month—when it comes out next month you’ll see it there. They were amazed.
And we were talking to one of the Syrian refugees. She saw our logo. She said, oh, I remember you guys from Ramtha in Jordan. Are you the same guys that helped me? We go, yes. So this lady that we helped in Jordan is now helping in New Jersey homeless U.S. Army veterans. We’re doing it in Seattle and other places. But we cannot get American media outlets to talk about that. And the person who was there in Ohio, how many times have we had people in America killing people? We have more toddlers killing people. Are we going to ban all toddlers from America for killing people with guns?
We don’t want to talk about gun violence. We’re very selected. It depends on the color of the person. Just remember, when you hear something, look at—apparently in the Muslim community we have great mental health issues, because there’s not a single Muslim or brown person that’s ever got a mental health issue. But when you look at young, white men who are doing it, oh, it’s always a mental health issue. Have a look. So mental health issue is apparently really bad amongst young white men, really good amongst Muslims. They all are very clear of their religious scriptures. And we know what description young black men are given.
Again, I’m sorry, but it goes back to color. It goes back to the other. I’m different than you. And the best of American society is when we’ve brought people together. The best of American society—and I wish that every American had a passport, went overseas, saw how wonderful the rest of the world were, and they saw how wonderful Americans are. I think that would help to fix the problem. And I don’t mean Mexico. That’s not enough. I mean, go a little bit further than Mexico. (Laughter.)
AMOS: Can I just follow up on this with Bob? And it’s the idea about whose megaphone is in use. And, you know, the White House could have had a larger megaphone. And we saw, when the White House put out that videotape of the six-year-old who said, please bring Omran here, it was one of the most watched videos ever. It was a huge hit on YouTube. Do you think that the White House could have had a bigger megaphone for the refugee program?
CAREY: Well, I think the White House has had a megaphone. I mean, one of the priority issues for the Obama administration has been the admission of Syrian refugees and the increase in the refugee ceiling. I’m not sure—you know, there are stories that the White House has put out. They’ve held events on World Refugee Day and others. I’ve been at a number of them. I’ve spoken at a number of them. I think—I’m thinking back to one in which I had the honor of introducing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is not often talked about as a refugee, further to Mark’s point.
Or we have two former secretaries of state that come to mind—Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright—both refugees. Many prominent refugees, I’m sure, among the membership of this esteemed organization and people like Andy Grove, the founder of Intel. They’re not often talked about as refugees. I think that’s sometimes missing from the discussion. The White House has done an extraordinary amount. Arguably, they could do more. I think they’ve done more than many administrations. And it has been a priority issue. I’m not sure how much all of those issues have had power in the news cycle, but I think there’s certainly been a lot done.
AMOS: All the way in the back, lady in the green coat. I think that’s green. I can’t see that far.
Q: I’m Jonathan Golden from the Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict at Drew University.
My question is about the distribution of resources and coordination of efforts. I’m in New Jersey. And I’m sort of operating between, say, Elizabeth, where there’s, you know, dozens of families perhaps from Syria alone, and hundreds of families, and then Morris County, where we actually have one family that just arrived on election day and a group of over 100 sort of based in the church, but an interfaith effort all focused on helping this one family of five. So on my own, I’m trying to redirect some of those resources. But my question, you know, there’s so much that’s going on in the grassroots efforts and, as we discussed today, in the faith communities. But is there a way to better coordinate these efforts so that we don’t necessarily see that type of disparity?
CAREY: Well, I can speak a bit to it. The office in which I work, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, funds—the State Department funds the initial reception and placement. After that, our office works through states and nonprofits, 49 of the 50 states, and funds services which range from psycho-social, school impact, English language, employment. It’s very—as others referenced, it’s very heavily employment-focused because the support provided is very much time limited. Cash and medical assistance for up to eight months, after which time refugees are expected to be employed.
So there is in each state a state refugee coordinator whose charge is to ensure the coordination of services in that state, among both the private and the public actors. The state of New Jersey happens to be going through a transition in the program right now, where the state had elected from withdraw from the administration of the program. And we are in the process of turning that over to a private nonprofit, which is the way the program is operated in 12 other states, and four that are currently in the process of transitioning to the privately administered model. So there can always be more coordination, but there are individuals and offices that are charged with doing that.
CANNY: You know, just, if I could, we have over 300 outlets, if you will, places in the country, offices that resettle refugees, 48 states. So theoretically spread out. About 75 percent of the families who come to America as refugees, historically a little lower percentage these days, are tied to U.S. families. You know, part of the process of choosing refugees is that they have a place not only where the resettlement agencies will help them, but they have family ties that they can go to and rely on. Those families do—have tended, as other ethnic groups have, et cetera—to come together in parts of the country and the parts of cities, et cetera. Certainly the goal is to, you know, have refugees be spread out across the country, to be part of the mosaic. But there is a tendency, even with secondary migration, to go where other families are.
HETFIELD: I would also say that your question kind of highlights another point. And, you know, I have to differ a little bit with Bob. I would say that in—from November 2015 until the present, the Obama administration has been awesome in terms of a partner in the refugee program. Prior to that, no so much. Prior to that, the Obama administration was really AWOL on refugee resettlement. But they’ve been trying to make up for lost time.
But my point is that even resettling 110,000 refugees is way lower than we should be doing. We are a big country. In the early 1980s, we were resettling over 200,000 refugees a year. And proportionally the number today should be even larger. Canada resettled 26,000 Syrians in the course of a few months last year, which would be like us resettling 300,000 proportionally. There’s a lot of capacity that we’re not using. There’s a lot of communities that want to resettle refugees. But we have to resettle refugees where we have sites right now.
The Obama administration worked with us this year—us, being all nine agencies—to expand our sites around the country. All of us have been opening up new sites. Maybe not yet in Morris County, but in other places around the country. And has this continued, I guarantee you that in Morris County we would have a site as well. But we don’t know what 2017 has in store for us, and what’s going to happen to these new sites and these excited new communities which are now engaging in refugee resettlement. Had we started this a few years earlier, were we at the capacity we should be at given our leadership role in the world on refugee resettlement, we’d be in a very different place and Morris County would have a refugee resettlement site.
AMOS: Have you slowed down on opening new associates—you know, groups that work through you?
HETFIELD: We have not. But we’re very concerned about it. We’re very concerned about it.
AMOS: OK. I want to do somebody in the back. OK.
Q: I’m Donald Shriver, former president of Union Theological Seminary.
I’m active in the work of our congregation and our neighborhood, Riverside Church, which in the early 1980s offered sanctuary to a Guatemala refugee family from a country that was engaged in a great deal of violence, some of it sponsored by our government. My question is, what are the protections that local congregations, mosques and synagogues may have, if they want to protect sanctuary for refugees that they feel are being unjustly threatened by the government. The ancient right of sanctuary is not easy to adjust to law, but it’s a very important kind of right in relation to humanitarian arguments for protecting some of these refugees. I know that there both political and economic reasons to justify sanctuary. But I’d like to know, what would be your advice to congregational leaders who want to protect this right, and the right to resort to this kind of help to refugees.
AMOS: I think is a question we’ve seen across the country. There’s a lot of churches, synagogues, and mosques that are asking exactly this, this what can they do?
CANNY: Yeah, I’d be happy to—we’re grappling with this certainly within our church around the country. We have a number of groups who are discussing this quite a bit. It is—you have the old sanctuary movement, as we call it, you know, from the ’80s, and now a kind of new sanctuary movement, as we’re calling it. Different from sanctuary cities, but perhaps a little connected. If you think of a sanctuary congregation or a church, I think you might want to look at whether or not you’re in a sanctuary city. You may get perhaps some protections by being part of that going forward. I think you have to look—make sure you know what the laws are if you give sanctuary to someone. There are penalties that are on the books that can—(inaudible)—that. You should be aware of what the—of certainly what the laws are.
I think we also have to be mindful, the U.S. government has on the books not going into sensitive locations, as they’re called. And these are schools. These are churches, where they’re not going into sensitive locations in order to remove people, all right? And, you know, we’ve tried to hold their feet to the fire on that. I think if you’re a congregation, make sure you know about that particular aspect of practice with our current government, sensitive locations. And then make a—you know, a judicial decision. But make sure you know about a few of these other things.
AMOS: Mark, has there been discussion in your community?
HETFIELD: We are—it’s a very important question. And we’re just starting to have that discussion. The sanctuary movement resulted in reforms to our asylum system in the late 1980s, which made the sanctuary movement no longer as necessary as it was for most of that decade. Now we’re entering to a brave new world. And once again, we hope not, but the needs for that kind of service are something we’re going to have to grapple with.
AMOS: Anwar, are mosques debating whether to become sanctuaries, and can they?
KHAN: They definitely are. There’s imams calling for them to be sanctuaries. And when Muslims are concerned about what’s going on in the future, sometimes the talk from the imam is don’t you know what’s going on with the undocumented workers. You’re worried that you’re going to go to internment camps. Are you not aware of the way that some of these undocumented workers, people are being treated right now? So there is a call from the imams. Again, there Muslim community is much smaller than the other faith-based communities. But I think, again, many of imams, leadership, are stating that this is a moral issue, in the same way that every other faith is discussing it. And there are people saying that we need to do something about it.
Q: Thank you. This question is for Mr. Carey. I’m Allen Hyman. I’m at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.
Knowing that you’re a lame duck, essentially—(laughter)—as I ask this question, I was surprised to learn that your agency is at HHS. I was very surprised. I could imagine other agencies that might have been more appropriate. I know something about the new secretary coming on for HHS. And I can’t imagine he’s going to expend any resources or much of his time on your particular interest. I wonder if you thought—ever thought of—is there a better place, or better home, for refugee resettlement?
CAREY: Well, I can’t really speculate about what the new administration will do. And we will provide briefings to them and materials to inform them about what’s currently going on. I think there are debates about were you to create a refugee program of whole cloth today, you might not structure it the way it is currently structured, but there certainly is a rationale. We at ORR—the State Department, which has the role of admissions and the initial reception and placement.
And then we—part of our role in Health and Human Services is to link refugees with other mainstream services, many of which are administered through the Department of Health and Human Services. So refugees are categorically eligible for other benefits. They are legally present here. They have the—they have the expectation that they will apply for permanent residence for after one year, and they’re eligible for citizenship after five. So they can access other HHS programs, whether it’s TANF or medical benefits as they exist in a given state, or Head Start programs.
So, you know, I actually think the linkage does make sense. We have, during recent years, worked vigorously to engage with other actors in the Federal government to ensure that they’re mindful of the needs of refugee populations in various communities, and that they are aware of the presence of refugees and their needs. So part of what we’re—so, actually, there is a rationale that makes sense. And we’ve, I think, advanced that to ensure that refugees are—their needs are addressed in mainstream programs that are serving populations across the country.
Q: Hi. Don Kerwin from the Center for Migration Studies.
I wanted to ask a question about security, since security is such an issue with this program. And the question kind of flips the—flips the paradigm and asks: Doesn’t refugee protection, broadly understood—and not just refugee resettlement, but addressing the causes of, you know, the whole spectrum of refugee programs—doesn’t that actually advance security? I mean, if you think about addressing the causes of refugees, and then all the way through refugee integration. It strikes me that those are pro-security programs.
AMOS: Anwar, and then we’ll come to you.
KHAN: These are people who fled those regimes. These are people who don’t agree with what’s going on over there, who understand the language and understand the culture. Refugees didn’t come here because they had nothing better to do. Many of them risked their lives to come here. It takes seven years on average for a refugee to be—as a refugee. They are highly motivated. They want to study. They pay their taxes. And it’s in their interest to be thankful for the country that has taken them in. So, yes. But again, we’re not talking about facts here this year, are we? The whole of 2016, the facts and the truth seems to be a dirty word. Facts is—fact is a four-letter word. That’s the way that we’re using it sometimes this year.
So again and again, what do facts have to do with it? I’m hoping that next year we’ll get back to our senses, or it might take a couple of years. But, no, I believe refugees, absolutely, can be a great strength. I myself am a son of a refugee. My father was a refugee from India to Pakistan, my mom and dad. My father was adopted. He worked in inner-city areas of Britain where other people didn’t want to work. Many people over here are now the Muslim doctors. I challenge you, go to the most rural areas of America. You’ll often find a Muslim. He or she is in the hospital and they’re a doctor over there. They are really helping in society over here. And refugees are highly motivated. My mother wanted to make sure we all went to university, we all did well. Many times they’ve lost everything to rebuild themselves. So I will say that there are many refugees that would be a great asset to the country and that could help in many areas, including, as you said, security.
CANNY: There’s a famous papal quote: If you want peace, work for security. Or if you want security, excuse me, work for peace. As we’ve failed to stop the wars, we’ve become less secure as a country. As we and the other European nations failed to provide security for refugees in Jordan, and Turkey, and Lebanon, and other countries, we became less secure. Refugees marched on Europe as over the four years that they were in those other countries they got hungrier, their kids in larger percentages didn’t go to school—or didn’t go to school at all, they had no opportunities to work or their initial opportunities to work were stripped from them, as they became less secure they marched on Europe.
So security is critical, both in countries where there are wars, but as refugees transition out. And all of us promote, as we do, our advocacy, making sure that our foreign policy and our foreign assistance attempt to provide security for refugees where they find themselves, usually in neighboring countries.
AMOS: In our last minute I’m going to ask each one of you to answer this question shortly. And that is: Is there a price to pay for collapsing America’s refugee project? And I’ll start with you, Robert.
CAREY: Well, I think there’s obviously a human—like, once again, I can’t speculate about what a new administration will do. And I’m hopeful, but I think this is, as I stated earlier, one of the core humanitarian traditions of our country. It strengthens our country. And it would be a tragedy to have that in any way diminished. I think we as a people would be diminished were this program to erode.
CANNY: I think it would diminish our standing internationally. We provide certain leadership. We provide, although the numbers are small, certain psychological help to countries that are harboring refugees. Their leadership knowing that we will take some. So I think we would be damaged in that regard. Obviously 100,000 refugees a year would be damaged from the opportunity that we provide them, perhaps most importantly. But I also join Bob, you know, we damage ourselves.
HETFIELD: Yeah. There would be a huge price to pay. If we were to not accept refugees anymore, we’re sending a signal out to the rest of the world that refugees are dangerous. Refugee protection is not the work of one country. It has to be done by the international community working together or it will not work. And if the United States, which indisputably has the best track record of integrating refugees and immigrants, says, no, we’re not going to do it—forget it. I mean, there is no more protection for refugees anywhere if the United States does that.
KHAN: We lose our moral high ground. Number two, is refugees today, probably going to be immigrants tomorrow. This is the country that opened the doors—we just had a holiday recently called Thanksgiving where we celebrated people coming. Far as I know, they weren’t filling out any visas or passports when they came over. And we celebrate them. So I think, again, we are our best when we help those in need. And we will lose our moral high ground, which is more important, in my opinion, than anything else that we have. People look up to America for, at its best, when it’s at the highest in its moral high ground. Let us not give up the moral high ground. And right now, there aren’t that many who are going up. People are looking to go down. We need to stay up too.
AMOS: Thank you very much, gentlemen. And thank you all for attending this panel. (Applause.)