The Qualities of Mercy: Maximizing the Impact of U.S. Refugee Resettlement
Resettlement in the US. bestows a life changing benefit on thousands of overseas refugees. Because American refugee acceptance can never reach more than a tiny fraction of the world’s millions of persecuted or oppressed, however, allocating this bounty requires the US. to choose the lucky few from the worthy many. Since the creation in 1980 of a permanent program of refugee resettlement, three different, and often conflicting, purposes have contended for its trove of immigration-like admissions slots. These are the removal of people from danger or hardship, the furtherance of a cluster of foreign policy objectives, and the facilitation of such traditional immigration aims as family reunion or cultural connection to the US.
This Article examines these selection grounds from practical, political, and philosophical perspectives, beginning with a consideration of the kinds of hardship that might warrant removal to the U.S. Given that refugee resettlement can reach only a tiny fraction of the oppressed, endangered, or suffering people in the world, this Article proposes that we concentrate on those whose admission would have the greatest positive impact on U.S. interests, the refugees themselves, or the populations from which they are drawn. This priority includes the most seriously threatened, but also covers those whose admission would provide some other secondary gains beyond the primary benefit of removing a person from danger or hardship.
In light of the context and process dynamics of refugee resettlement, the Article recommends several ways of maximizing its impact. These include burden-sharing active acceptance of human rights activists, more selection directly from countries of persecution, and greater geographic concentration. The Article also suggests that the only family reunion grounds for selection be that of spouses or parents and their minor children, that cultural connections to the U.S. generally should not count in refugee resettlement, and that certain foreign policy purposes be eschewed. All of these recommendations are made with the aim of making the most of a valuable and increasingly scarce life-saving resource.