Syrian Refugees - What Is the Law?

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

The issue of so-called “Syrian refugees,” being invited in large numbers to the United States ostensibly seeking asylum from persecution in war-torn Syria, has pitted the President against the House of Representatives, including a large segment of the Democrats and the majority of Americans. I think it important for each citizen of the United States to know the law.

Immigration and Nationality Act U.S. Code § 1101

(42) The term “refugee” means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or (B) in such special circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 1157(e) of this title…

(e) “Appropriate consultation” defined For purposes of this section, the term “appropriate consultation” means, with respect to the admission of refugees and allocation of refugee admissions, discussions in person by designated Cabinet-level representatives of the President with members of the Committees on the Judiciary of the Senate and of the House of Representatives to review the refugee situation or emergency refugee situation, to project the extent of possible participation of the United States therein, to discuss the reasons for believing that the proposed admission of refugees is justified by humanitarian concerns or grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest, and to provide such members with the following information:

(1) A description of the nature of the refugee situation.

(2) A description of the number and allocation of the refugees to be admitted and an analysis of conditions within the countries from which they came.

(3) A description of the proposed plans for their movement and resettlement and the estimated cost of their movement and resettlement.

(4) An analysis of the anticipated social, economic, and demographic impact of their admission to the United States.

(5) A description of the extent to which other countries will admit and assist in the resettlement of such refugees.

(6) An analysis of the impact of the participation of the United States in the resettlement of such refugees on the foreign policy interests of the United States.

(7) Such additional information as may be appropriate or requested by such members.

To the extent possible, information described in this subsection shall be provided at least two weeks in advance of discussions in person by designated representatives of the President with such members.

(f) Training

(1) The Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall provide all United States officials adjudicating refugee cases under this section with the same training as that provided to officers adjudicating asylum cases under section 1158 of this title.

(2) Such training shall include country-specific conditions, instruction on the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion, instruction on methods of religious persecution practiced in foreign countries, and applicable distinctions within a country between the nature of and treatment of various religious practices and believers.

I am no authority on immigration law. I leave detailed analysis of the law’s meaning to those who have professional expertise in these areas. However, I am able to read English and, according to the IQ tests I took during my education, have an above average intelligence. It is apparent to me that to be qualified for the designation of “refugee” as the law states, you must be “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided.” This would not permit the United States to accept Syrians residing in Syria, but only those who have already left. While circumstances for these folks may or not be adequate in the locations in which they temporarily reside, the appropriate action for the United States would be, as a humanitarian gesture, to provide some additional foreign aid to allies such as Germany, who have opened their doors to these so-called refugees.

President Obama, ignoring the will of the American people and the vote of the House of Representatives, which included support from a significant number of Democrats, wishes to unilaterally bring tens of thousands of Syrians into the United States from Syria. The immigration law does provide for the “special circumstance” in which the president wants to take action. However, it requires “in such special circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 1157(e) of this title” can act unilaterally. Section “e” (see above) provides a process in which the President provides detailed information about the individuals in question, and his plans regarding their relocation to the United States, etc. In fact, the very debate now raging in our society about this very issue, would have been put to rest had the president followed through on his legal responsibilities under the law as detailed in section “e.”

I am amazed that our politicians, both in the administration and in the Congress seem more interested in playing political games than simply abiding by the laws of the United States. And by the way, the law is not difficult to reference. It took me approximately 3 minutes to ascertain the law on the Internet. At times, I believe all our politicians are simply attendees at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. What a way to run a country upon which the whole world depends!