Church group seeks ‘educational pathways’ for refugees to reach America

Church group seeks ‘educational pathways’ for refugees to reach America

Migrants from Central America use the sinks at the "House of the Refugee" in El Paso, Texas, April 24, 2019, which gives temporary shelter to migrants released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection due to overcrowded facilities. (Credit: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters, via CNS).

A new report from a faith-based organization calls for the federal government to create educational pathways for refugees to resettle in the U.S., as the Biden administration looks to rebuild the nation’s refugee resettlement program.

NEW YORK – A new report from a faith-based organization calls for the federal government to create educational pathways for refugees to resettle in the U.S., as the Biden administration looks to rebuild the nation’s refugee resettlement program.

The report, from international faith-based advocacy organization Church World Service, was published July 1. It focuses on four steps for the Biden Administration, the first of which would be granting refugees admitted into the U.S. to pursue higher education refugee status, which would provide them more robust and longer-term protections than temporary student visas.

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to rebuild the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program after the Trump administration cut the refugee admissions cap to a historic low of 15,000 on Sept. 30 for the current fiscal year that started on October 1.

In April, however, Biden received backlash after he announced he would not increase the refugee admissions cap from the 15,000. The president then backtracked on that decision a month later and raised the cap to 62,500, with a goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2022.

The Church World Service report notes that rebuilding the refugee resettlement program to that capacity is not an easy task. Therefore, it argues, it will be important for the Biden administration to consider complementary pathways, which “places focus on exploring ways to open educational, employment, family reunification, and other humanitarian pathways to refugees.”

Under an education pathway, the report says that these students “would be selected on the basis of their educational qualifications, in addition to their need for protection and a durable solution.”

It expresses support for a proposal from the Biden administration to create a priority four (P-4) category of individuals eligible to enter the country under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program called the “Private Sponsorship Pilot Initiative.” The initiative includes referrals of privately sponsored individuals to the refugee resettlement program.

The report calls on the Biden administration to expedite its review and approval of the P-4 initiative, which includes “adequate funding to ensure its success.” It also highlights why it’s important to work with higher education institutions on the initiative.

“The United States has some of the best universities in the world, [and] they deserve students who can bring new, invigorating perspectives to their classrooms,” Erol Kekic, senior vice president of Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program, said in a statement.

“It has been proven […] that refugees make our nation stronger; as business owners, as first-responders, as members of our military, and as neighbors,” Kekic continued. “Through the creation of a program that prioritizes aiding refugee students, that strength can only grow.”

That said, the report also argues that the Biden administration should count refugees admitted into the U.S. through an education, or other complementary pathway, separately than those admitted on humanitarian grounds. Instead, the report argues, it should increase admissions.

“Community sponsored initiatives should serve to increase the overall number of refugees receiving protection from the U.S., rather than detracting from the number of refugees admitted on humanitarian grounds,” the report reads.

It suggests that the U.S. government establish a separate target number of refugees to admit in addition to the 125,000 person goal anticipated to be set for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Educational pathways must not compete with humanitarian-based resettlement, and any educational or other complementary pathway should be designed to ensure that this separation is maintained,” the report continues.

Other steps Church World Service suggests the Biden administration take to implement an educational pathway include working with resettlement agencies to make sure student-refugees have the core services in place to excel as new Americans and students.

It also suggests the Biden administration look into partnering directly with higher education institutions following a model of a public-private partnership, meaning government funds supplement private resources invested in resettling refugees.

In that vein, the Church World Service report proposes that until the P-4 initiative is established, that the federal government undertake a pilot educational pathway for refugees that will allow it to learn how to work with new partners, like higher educational institutions.

The report acknowledges higher educational institutions and anyone else interested would have to contend with the issue of cost, though, it also argues it’s essential to expanding the system.

“Involving private sector funding (inclusive of philanthropy) will be key in envisioning a workable and scalable system for the future,” the report reads.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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