U.S. Policies

HIAS advocates for refugees by urging Congress and the Administration to uphold the United States’ proud tradition as a leader in refugee protection and assistance.

The U.S. has a long history of refugee protection and resettlement. Refugee resettlement not only provides a safe haven to refugees, it also plays an invaluable role in the United States’ humanitarian, national security, and foreign policy priorities. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has successfully provided protection to more than three million refugees since the program’s formal establishment in 1980 with the passage of the Refugee Act. The United States resettles the most vulnerable refugees, including: women and children, victims of torture, and religious minorities.  

Refugees integrate into the fabric of American society. They become business owners and homeowners, bringing not only economic opportunities, but a sense of community. They are artists, farmers, CEOs, and Secretaries of State. Most importantly, they are our neighbors.

The Presidential Determination (PD)

The Refugee Act of 1980 formalized the refugee resettlement system in the United States, creating the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. It authorizes the President, in consultation with Congress, to determine the annual cap on refugee admissions for the following fiscal year.  The average ceiling set by presidents since the program’s inception in 1980 has been 95,000 refugees.

In 2018, Administration capped the number of refugees that can be resettled to the United States at the lowest admissions ceiling in the history of the U.S. refugee program, and it comes at a time when the UN Refugee Agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), reports that there are more than 25.4 million refugees in need of protection worldwide, of which 1.2 million are in need of resettlement.

Increasing the PD would allow the United States to assist more of the world's most vulnerable refugees, those who remain at-risk even after having fled the immediate threat in their home countries, including: women-headed households, unaccompanied refugee children, LGBTI refugees, religious minorities, and individuals with significant medical needs.  

By accepting fewer refugees, the United States is failing to support front-line refugee hosting states, which contributes to the destabilization of valuable allies. Countries that are shouldering most of the refugee flow - like Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon - are already struggling to accommodate them. Accepting more refugees supports the stability of U.S. allies and eases the strain on smaller countries that have welcomed refugees in unprecedented numbers and spent millions caring for them.

Respected national security experts like Henry Kissinger, David Patraeus, Michael Hayden, Brent Snowcroft, Steven Hadley, George Shultz, Michael Chertoff, General James Jones, George Casey, Richard Myers, James Stavridis, John Vessey and others wrote to Congress saying that “resettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.”

Secure Program

The security of the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program is of the utmost importance to all refugee resettlement advocates, including HIAS. We work to educate Congress and the public on the already rigorous vetting that refugees undergo before arriving to the United States and emphasize the multitude of national security experts who believe in the security of the Program, including the former head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Refugees are the most vetted population coming to the United States. The Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security share responsibility for screening refugee applicants, and use biographic and biometric data to vet individuals against multiple intelligence databases. The entire process from referral to the United States to completion of security checks takes an average of 18-24 months.

Federal Funding

Providing a safe haven for refugees means adequately funding the USRAP which provides assistance to newly arrived refugees while they become self-sufficient. Additionally, this funding assists the local communities that welcome refugees. HIAS advocates on behalf of refugee and asylum related funding accounts.

The main source of refugee funding is from the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, accounts housed by State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPs) accounts. These accounts fund life-sustaining overseas assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons. They also provide funding for refugee admissions to the United States.  

Integral to refugee self-sufficiency and care of unaccompanied minors is funding from accounts within the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies accounts (Labor-HHS). The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services provides services that assist with the integration, health, and self-sufficiency of refugees. Programs like the public-private partnership Matching Grant program assist refugees to enter the workforce without utilizing federal or state assistance programs. ORR also supports health promotion, financial literacy and integration programs, and programs for survivors of human trafficking. Additionally, these accounts support Special Immigrant Visa recipients (SIVs), which are reserved for Iraqi and Afghan citizens whose affiliations with the United States endangered their lives.

Lautenberg Amendment

Through the Lautenberg Amendment, first enacted in 1990 as part of the U.S. foreign operations budget to facilitate resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union, HIAS has brought tens of thousands to safety. As the worldwide refugee situation has evolved, the Lautenberg Amendment expanded to include persecuted religious minorities in other countries, such as Jews, Christians, and Baha’is from Iran. Despite being a crucial part of U.S. refugee policy, the amendment expires each year and must be reauthorized. HIAS works alongside partners to ensure that the Lautenberg Amendment continues to help persecuted religious minorities find safety in the United States. Find more about the Lautenberg Amendment here

To discuss the Lautenberg Program with a HIAS staff member, please email FSU.Refugee.Program@hias.org.

Local Advocacy

The Policy and Advocacy team works closely with our Community Engagement department to engage  the American Jewish community in local, grassroots advocacy. Visit our webpage to learn about volunteer opportunities, find resources, attend an event, or take action to support refugees and asylum seekers. To learn more about how to become a Welcoming Congregation, please click here.

HIAS also works with a resettlement partners throughout the United States to support the integration of refugees and asylees and to advocate on their behalf. To find out where our resettlement partners are, click here.

HIAS participates in Refugee Council USA a coalition of 25 U.S.-based non-governmental organizations dedicated to refugee protection, welcome, and excellence in the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

For another example of HIAS’ work with local communities, check out The Linking Communities Project. This program helps combat anti-refugee sentiment and supports innovative local initiatives that highlight the benefits of refugee resettlement.