[APPLAUSE] MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: Thank you. Thank you for coming out this very steamy afternoon. My name is Maria Cristina Garcia. I'm professor of history and Latino studies here at Cornell. And as Heather said, I write and teach about immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
My previous books focused on migration from Cuba and Central America. And this new book looks at US refugee and asylum policy since the end of the Cold War.
For the next 20 to 30 minutes, to allow plenty of time for a Q&A, I would like to give you a brief overview of us refugee and asylum policy and how it has changed over time.
Refugee policy is a fairly new development within the history of immigration policy. It really only dates back to World War II and the Cold War. During the Cold War, anticommunism was the lens through which we interpreted who a refugee is. In the post-cold war era, and especially in the post-9/11 period, the war on terror has become the new lens through which we interpret who is worthy of admission to the United States.
The word refugee is derived from the French verb se refuger, which simply means to seek shelter from danger. Journalists, clergy, humanitarian advocates have used this term in a variety of contexts to refer to a wide range of people of humanitarian concern.
Over the course of US history, they have used the term to refer to, for example, those who fled the failed German revolution of 1848. The term refugee was used to refer to Americans displaced by the Civil War, the Bureau of Freedmen and Refugees, for example. In 1917, the term refugee was used once again, this time to refer to a small group of Mexicans of Chinese origin who General John "Blackjack" Pershing brought back with him after the failed expeditionary force to Mexico to capture Pancho Villa.
In 2005, the term refugee was used to refer to the tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. And more recently, the term has been used to refer to those displaced from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico because of the hurricane-packed summer and fall of 2017.
But despite the many popular uses of the word refugee, the term has a more precise meaning in international law and in US domestic law. And that definition limits who we can consider for refugee admission to the United States.
The first attempts to create a separate track for refugee admissions occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act and the Refugee Relief Act that allowed roughly 600,000 people to enter the United States between 1948 and 1956. Refugees at this particular historical moment were defined as victims of Nazism and fascism coming from predominantly Southern and Eastern Europe.
In passing this legislation, Congress was trying to assist our European allies in their postwar economic recovery by accommodating a share of those who had been left homeless by the war. These Southern and Eastern Europeans would not have been granted admission to the United States otherwise because of the racist national origins quotas that had been in place in the United States since the 1920s, actually the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act.
Then in 1965, when Congress passed the Hart-Celler Act to abolish these racist national origins quotas, it included within the annual cap a smaller cap for refugees, 6% of the annual admissions, which at the time translated to about 18,000 people. The Hart-Celler Act at this time defined a refugee as those persecuted on account of race, religion, and/or political opinion, those displaced by natural calamity, those fleeing communist or communist-dominated countries, and those fleeing the Middle East.
But it is the 1980 Refugee Act that today dictates our refugee policy. The 1980 Refugee Act drew on the United Nations' definition of refugee and defined a refugee as a person outside of his or her country of nationality or habitual residence who cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
In order to qualify for refugee status today, one must meet certain requirements. In addition to proving a well-founded fear based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, you have to prove your identity. You have to prove that you are who you say you are. You cannot have a criminal record. You must be a civilian. So army officers, police officers do not qualify for refugee status. And since 9/11, it's increasingly difficult for child soldiers who have been conscripted against their will to qualify for refugee status either.
Refugees must also have traveled across an international border. They must be outside of their country of habitual residence. Occasionally, the United States might make an exception to this rule in order to ease the pressure on the countries that border areas of crisis. But for the most part, you have to have crossed an international border.
You also must demonstrate that you have a reasonable fear of future persecution and that your state failed to protect you, that you could not have secured safety simply by moving to another part of your country. If you can do all that, you might have a reasonable chance of securing refugee status in the United States. But today, less than 1% of refugees worldwide are admitted to the top resettlement nations, including the United States, but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand Germany, the United Kingdom, et cetera.
Since 1980, the White House, in consultation with Congress, sets the annual quota for refugee admissions and assigns percentages of that quota to different regions of the world. Here is Obama's presidential determination for 2017 before Donald Trump reduced the number from 110,000 to 50,000.
And then in fiscal year 2018, which will end on September 30, the administration reduced refugee admissions to 45,000. But upon last check, we had not even reached half that number for 2018. These are the lowest numbers since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And according to stories that are circulating today, apparently the presidential determination for fiscal year 2019 will be half that number.
Now, during the Cold War, anticommunism, as I said, was the lens through which we interpreted who was worthy of admission as a refugee or as an asylum seeker. Coming from a communist country did not guarantee your admission, but it did maximize your chances of admission, because federal authorities operated on the premise that you were fleeing countries that were innately repressive.
And so not surprisingly, the vast majority of our refugees came from just three countries, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Cuba. Smaller numbers came from the Eastern Bloc, from the People's Republic of China, and from Southeast Asia.
American policymakers advocated for the admission of refugees from communist countries, because they recognized that these refugees were powerful symbols. They were powerful symbols of what they said was an innate desire to live in free societies, that by coming to the United States, they demonstrated the desirability of democracy and capitalism over communist totalitarianism. These refugees were powerful ideological symbols.
The United States also benefited from these admissions, because a good number of those that we brought in as refugees were the highly skilled and the highly educated of their societies. And in many cases, they brought much-needed intelligence that then later informed our military policies overseas.
Now, since the end of the Cold War, the fear of terrorism has become the new lens through which we interpret who a refugee is. There is great fear of accepting refugees from certain parts of the world, areas that are believed to be incubators of terrorism. And I'll come back to this point in just a moment.
The post-Cold War period has also presented yet another challenge to federal authorities. What do you do with the growing number of asylum seekers who are petitioning for protection on US territory? What distinguishes a refugee from an asylee or an asylum seeker is the location where they ask for protection.
A refugee is identified abroad for resettlement in the United States or some other country. He may request for admission at a US embassy, at a consulate, at a refugee camp. At refugee camps, representatives of international agencies, such as the UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration, compile lists of individuals who might be eligible for resettlement in the United States. And they refer those to the Department of Homeland Security.
The United States considers these referrals. But the final decision of whether or not to grant refugee status is always made by our DHS officials in consultation with the Departments of State and Justice. The vetting of refugees can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. And after this period, there is no guarantee that you will be admitted to the United States.
An asylee, on the other hand, requests for protection on US territory, a port of entry, for example, like JFK Airport or at the US-Mexico border or the US Canada border. They may ask for asylum if they are stopped by ICE, for example, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. And as an attempt to prevent deportation, they might ask for asylum. Or they might ask for asylum on a Coast Guard vessel if they are rescued at sea.
Now, during the Cold War, asylum cases were comparatively fewer. And the cases that generated the most media attention were the deflections of high-profile individuals, like Russian ballet dancers like Alexander Gudanov or Cuban baseball players like "El Duque" Hernandez or Cuban musicians like Paquito de Rivera or Eastern European coaches like Bela and Marta Karolyi or Romanian gymnasts like Olga Comaneci or Czech tennis players like Martina Navratilova. Even Josef Stalin's daughter received asylum in 1967 and became an American citizen before she changed her mind and returned to the Soviet Union in 1984.
Until the 1980s, asylum seekers were generally released on their own recognizance while they waited for an administrative determination on their case. But since the 1980s, petitions for asylum have skyrocketed, in large part because of the political upheaval in Haiti and in Central America. And these cases have backlogged the asylum courts.
In order to discourage people from seeking asylum on US soil, the federal government has resorted to such practices as expedited removal, the withholding of work authorization, and the indefinite detention in an immigration prison to discourage people from making what they consider to be frivolous asylum claims to try to enter the United States through the back door.
What is expedited removal? Well, during the Clinton administration, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, IRAIRA. The law gave an immigration officer at a port of entry enormous authority to decide-- well, actually the law is quite amazing at 700 pages, covering a wide range of immigration issues.
But buried within those 700 pages is this policy called expedited removal, which gives an immigration official extraordinary power to decide, on the spot, whether that person has a credible fear of persecution that warrants that he or she be heard before an asylum officer or an immigration judge. If the immigration officer does not believe that you have a credible fear of persecution, they have the authority to have you immediately removed from the United States. And this process has no oversight. It's called expedited removal.
In 2004, the range of geographic territory where expedited removal could be applied was extended 100 miles within any border. But last year, the Trump administration basically allowed expedited removal to be applied anywhere in the United States if a person is apprehended by an immigration authority.
If an asylum seeker is one of the lucky ones who is found to have a credible fear of persecution and he's granted an immigration hearing, it may be as long as three years before their case comes up before an immigration judge. And as they wait, if they are unable to prove their identity conclusively, without a doubt, or if they don't have family or friends who can speak for them, more likely than not, they will be held in an immigration prison.
And the government now entrusts the immigration detention to private companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic. And incarceration has become a multi-billion dollar industry. It's no surprise that after Trump's election, the stock prices of these companies rose 43% within a couple of months.
The fortunate asylum seekers who are released to their relatives and friends in the United States, while they wait for their hearings, they also face a number of challenges. It can be as long as 180 days or more before they receive authorization to work in the United States. So that means that in the meantime, they must rely on their family, friends, or faith communities for their financial sustenance, for their financial support.
Their chances of success in an asylum case also depends largely on the availability of legal counsel. But unlike in criminal cases, the federal government is not required to provide asylum seekers with legal representation, not even children. If an asylum seeker has an attorney or a translator or expert witnesses, it's because he either paid for them himself or an immigrant advocacy group provided them pro bono for their representation.
And lawyers, translators, and expert witnesses are enormously influential in securing a successful outcome. During fiscal year 2010, for example, only 11% of asylum seekers who did not have legal representation were able to secure asylum.
Now, decisions, it's a very capricious system. Decisions are rendered ad hoc. You could have two cases that are almost identical. If they are heard in two separate courts in different parts of the country, it's possible that they will receive entirely different outcomes. There is no standardized rulings on asylum cases. And a negative ruling is especially difficult on unaccompanied children, as we're seeing play out alongside the border.
Now, but most asylum seekers never make it this far, because as I said earlier, most are culled out. We don't have statistics for this. But based on interviews along the border and interviews with members of the border patrol, my suspicion is that most folks are culled through expedited removal and never, ever make it into the asylum system.
Now, Americans demand that policymakers be proactive in screening refugees and asylum seekers in the interest of national security. That has become a concern in the post-Cold War era and especially since 9/11. And that is not an unreasonable request.
But here are some facts to put these demands into context. According to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, during the 40-year period between 1975 and 2015, some 3.2 million refugees were admitted to the United States. During that 40 year period, 20 of those refugees attempted to carry out a terrorist attack in the United States. And three Americans were killed in the process. All three deaths were committed in the 1970s and at the hands of Cuban refugees.
The author of this study admitted that each one of those murders was a tragedy. And I think we can all agree about that. But he calculated Americans' risks of being killed by a refugee terrorist at one in 3.64 billion a year By comparison, the National Safety Council estimates that your chances of being killed in a motor vehicle accidents are one in 133. And your chances of dying as a result of firearms is one in 25,000. And as you see on the screen also, the rates for asylum seekers are comparable.
Today, of all the travelers who come to the United States, refugees are the most vetted population. Americans are under the mistaken impression that if a refugee waits long enough and patiently enough that they'll get into the United States. They also believe this of immigrants, that if you just wait long enough in the queue, you will have a chance to enter the United States. And that's simply not true. It's one of the myths that we have grown up with or that continues to be circulated. That's just not how the immigration system works.
Today there are 70 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide. If there's something that a DHS official doesn't like about an applicant for refugee status, they reject and move on to the next person on the list. People have been rejected for innocuous activities such as balancing a check. And there are more than enough people waiting to come to the United States that you can very easily fill the quota of 45,000. Although, as you saw for this year, we're not close to filling that quota.
Today, fewer than 1% of refugees worldwide are ever resettled in countries like the United States or the top resettlement nations. The real burden of accommodating refugee populations is always borne by the countries that border areas of crisis. Today it's countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Tanzania, Uganda, et cetera.
Some refugee camps, like this one in Jordan, are larger in population size than some US cities. In these camps, residents rarely have the opportunity to practice their professions, to move about freely, to run businesses, to own property. Education and medical care are rudimentary at best.
Entire generations of children have been raised have come of age in camp settings like this. But most Americans, geographically removed from areas of crisis and suffering from what Senator Alan Simpson once called compassion fatigue, are generally unaware of their plight.
Are we reneging on our international responsibilities? Could we do more? Well, for a very long time, the United States was the top refugee resettlement country. See these figures, for example, for 2015. This fiscal year, we will accept probably less than 30,000 refugees and an additional 20,000 asylum seekers.
As engaged citizens, you must decide for yourself whether we are doing enough to assist the displaced people around the world, especially in those regions of the world where we may have played a role in causing their displacement. And once you've reached an informed decision, I think it's our responsibility as members of our representative democracy to let our elected representatives know how we wish them to act. And hopefully they will follow our advice.
So these are some of the issues that I tackle in this book, I look at the post-Cold War period. And the book consists of a number of case studies. I begin with the fall of the Soviet Union. And I look at Tiananmen. I look at the Haitian crisis, Cuban migration in the 1990s.
I look at American responses to genocide in Rwanda and the Balkans. I look at the Iraqi war, at the Afghan war. I look at 9/11. And the final chapter focuses on asylum as another piece of this refugee puzzle.
It was a very challenging and depressing topic to work on but something that I think we as informed citizens need to know about. And so I will stop there. And I welcome your comments and questions and anything you want to raise. Thanks very much.
AUDIENCE: So it seems like maybe in this table, Syrian refugees aren't included. Is that true?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: In this table right here?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Is that because they don't go through UNHCR resettlement?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: Well, actually, it's something that I should have mentioned also in the start. But I only have a certain amount of time. There are other, also, channels through which one can receive humanitarian protection from the United States. For example, there's the Parole Authority.
Ever since 1952, we have what is known as the Parole Authority, where the Executive Branch, the White House can bring-- if it's deemed in the national interest, they can bring people into the United States to live and work and remain for a period of time in the United States.
In order for those individuals to then become permanent residents and become citizens, Congress then needs to pass an Adjustment Act, what they call an Adjustment Act. So that's another track to receive protection.
But to get to your point, your question about the Syrians. In terms of not the Syrians but the Iraqis, there are what are called Special Immigrant Visas that have been set aside over the past, say, 10, 15 years to allow certain numbers of Iraqi and Afghan translators to come into the United States. So that's another track to bring in people of humanitarian concern.
And in terms of Syrians, those who have brought into the United States, no, you're right. The numbers of Syrians that we have sponsored to come to the United States have been very, very small. The need certainly exceeds the slots that have been assigned to them by both the Obama and the Trump administration. Obama was trying to address that when he created the--
One of the reasons why, in fiscal year 2017, he expanded the refugee quota to 110,000 was specifically to bring in more Syrian refugees. But when Trump was elected and came to office, then the refugee quota was reduced substantially. And so we have lost out on many opportunities to sponsor more Syrian refugees to the US. Thanks for your question.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I appreciate how you went through the evolution of how the United States adopted a refugee definition. Can you talk about the implications of just why the US waited till 1980 to use the UNHCR definition? Why was there that gap between 1951 to 1980? And any consequences as a result of effects from adoption the definition later?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: The primary reason, what I've been able to find, the primary reason why Congress was very insistent on passing the Refugee Act is because they felt that the executive branch was overusing the Parole Authority that I just talked about, that the executive branch was bringing in too many people outside of immigration quotas in order to serve its Cold War policies. And they wanted more congressional oversight over who was being brought into the United States. And the consequence was the 1980 Refugee Act.
And so by adopting the UN definition, they hoped to remove the ideological charge that had been previously attached to the status of refugee. They weren't able to do that completely, because between 1980 and 1989, we still continued to admit a disproportionate number of refugees from communist countries. So we weren't able to completely avoid that ideological association. Thanks. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Yeah, you mentioned Puerto Ricans an example. But I was wondering, where do you-- I guess people seeking asylum in the United States because of environmental events, where do they fit into the definition of refugees, since I think the 1980 Refugee Act said it was fear of persecution for political opinion or anything?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: Right, absolutely. Currently, there isn't anything in our law that would allow. I held up a slide. In 1965, the Hart-Celler Act recognized that you could get refugee status if you were abroad if you were suffering from a natural calamity. But we actually never brought in anyone who was suffering from a natural calamity. And then in 1980, we removed natural calamity altogether from the refugee definition.
Today, at present, the only thing in our law that would offer any kind of protection to a person who has been displaced because of rising sea levels, because of hurricanes, other natural disasters is a status known as Temporary Protected Status, which was a feature of the 1990 immigration law.
But in order to receive TPS, you have to already be living in the United States. So you're not brought in from overseas. You have to be here either as a tourist, as a worker, as a student, or maybe even unauthorized.
And if your country asks the United States specifically that its nationals receive TPS, the US considers it. And then the person who holds TPS status holds it anywhere from six to 18 months. And after those 18 months, they're continually reassessed about whether it's safe for them to return home.
And if you've been following the whole discussion about TPS this past year, you know that there are many people from Central America who have held TPS status for two decades or more. And it begs the question, after a certain point, should those individuals be given a pathway to citizenship, given that they have had careers here, they've raised their families here. Is it the humane thing to do to give them a pathway to citizenship? The Trump administration says no. But we'll see what happens.
You might also be interested to know that of the 14 countries that have qualified for Temporary Protected Status over the past two decades, only five qualified for TPS for environmental reasons. The rest qualified because of political disruptions of some sort.
AUDIENCE: This needs to be recorded. Yeah, thank you. You can make a case, and you probably are more in a position to make such a case, that a lot if not most world refugees are the result of, directly or indirectly, American policy and action, whether military or political difference or a different sort. But the average US citizen disagrees with this statement. And to me, most of that based on ignorance, whether the source of the information and so on.
I can give you a very brief example, Syria, since I am extremely familiar with that. There is no question about it. United States policy is responsible for millions of Syrians running out of the country. But an average citizen, including many of my colleagues here at Cornell, they are astonished to hear that, because the media bombarded them constantly that we are really not interfering in Syria very much or very little interfering. But that's not the case.
How do you go around remedying this situation? What do you suggest for this? Is this system corrupt? There is no hope for it in Washington to get some representative to address the issue honestly?
Unfortunately, I give you an example based on ignorance. It's unfortunate the late McCain, Senator McCain, who was clearly a good Republican senator-- he went to Syria, Northern Syria a few years ago, about four years ago, and entered Syria from Turkey. And he made the press conference where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, was standing behind him.
I don't think McCain wanted al-Baghdadi behind him. But because of the ignorance of the system, and especially Congress and those behind it, that allow such a tragedy-- they think of such a people as liberator. So how do we address?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: I think you raise a very interesting point. And I think many Americans would agree with you that we have a certain obligation to assist people who have been displaced because of American foreign policy. How you go about convincing them, I really don't know.
One of the things that I can say though, that I found in writing this book is that, as lacking as our refugee policy has been, whenever a change occurred and whenever the door opens for any particular group, it was the result of advocacy. It was the result of conscientious Americans who felt that we had a responsibility to respond in a humane way to a particular group of people and then consistently put pressure to create those opportunities for them.
The Special Immigrant Visas for the Iraqi and the Afghan translators, for example, are a very recent example of an accommodation that Congress made as a result of the persistent pressure on the part of groups like the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, of which we have a chapter here at Cornell Law School. It's now been renamed to be the International Refugee Assistance Project. But groups like that, individuals, groups, church groups, individuals like that, with consistent pressure, they can bring about change.
As frustrating and as time consuming as it may be, change can happen. And so if this is an issue that you feel strongly about, and clearly you do, and I know others here are as well, it's through advocacy that you bring about change. It's one of the beauties of our system, I think.
It's just oftentimes, it doesn't come as rapidly as we would like. But it can happen.
AUDIENCE: This is a practical question. When a refugee comes to the US, how do they go about proving that their life is in danger were they to be returned to their country of origin? And I'm speaking more about Central America.
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: You mean asylum seekers here?
AUDIENCE: Asylum seekers. And they would say, well, the army came, and they murdered my son in front of me. My father has disappeared. My sister has disappeared. We don't know where they are. We've looked in all the morgues and all the body dumping grounds. I can't stay in my country.
And then it's up to-- numbers-wise, I don't believe that there was ever a way to prove it unless you were dead.
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: Yeah, that's an excellent point. And that's where legal representation becomes so critical, because oftentimes, it's that pro bono representation. And most Central Americans right now, they need that pro bono representation, legal representation, because it's those lawyers that help put together the expert witnesses. They do the research. They put together as compelling a case that might sway an immigration judge to avoid deportation or to facilitate withholding of removal. That's where the legal representation really comes in.
And the pressure on judges right now, because of the backlog, the pressure on immigration judges is extraordinary to move through these cases very, very quickly. In one case, I was just interviewing a lawyer, an immigration lawyer who told me that in one district that he worked in for many, many years, judges were hearing as many as 100 cases a day, which then raises the question, are they receiving a fair asylum hearing. Clearly not. And that's where the legal representation becomes so critical to the successful outcome of a case. Thank you. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. And I was just wondering whether-- thank you. You mentioned that most of the refugees go to bordering countries of the country of conflict. And I was just wondering whether you think that it would be more feasible for the US to invest its resources in helping those countries rather than investing in their own refugee asylums and investing in other countries to be more effective.
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: That that's an excellent question. And I think that has been, for the most part, US policy. We provide the most support to the UNHCR for a long time. Although, there is a rolling back now.
The UNHCR, for some time now, has been saying that they just don't have enough resources to meet the enormous demand that exists worldwide. And the situation is getting much, much worse in the era of accelerated climate change. We're going to see more and more displaced people in the years and decades to come. But at this moment, when there is even more need than ever, a lot of nations, taking the lead of the United States, are also holding back on providing the resources that they need in order to do their job.
And if the countries that have been housing such large numbers of refugees do not receive assistance from the UNHCR and other international agencies, then it's very, very possible that many of them will say, that's it. If the international community does not want to assist us with this problem, then we're going to send everybody home.
And then what happens? You have the potential for all kinds of political disruptions, for genocide. I mean, the possibilities are really mind-boggling. So thank you.
AUDIENCE: You said that in 2015, there were 82,000, I believe?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: That were referred to the United States.
AUDIENCE: What was the total number of legal arrivals in 2015 to the United States of what kinds?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: On average, we accept close to a million people, immigrants, each year through a variety of channels. So anywhere between 800,000 to a million people arrive as late as authorized immigrants every single year. So OK, thanks. Thanks.
AUDIENCE: These numbers are for refugees or asylum seekers?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: This was the presidential determination. So every year, the White House, in consultation with Congress, issues what is known as the Presidential Determination. And for fiscal year 2017, the Obama administration said that they would accept 110,000. And then of those 110,000, it was carved up in this way, 35,000 from the African continent, 12,000 from East Asia, et cetera. So every year, the executive branch does that in consultation with Congress.
But the point I was trying to make is that since 1980, most of our refugee admissions have hovered between 75,000 and 80,000. There have been a couple of years where it's peaked to about 120,000, but those have been the exception.
There were a few years immediately after 9/11 were our refugee admissions dipped to about 25,000-26,000. And now during the Trump administration, we stand to dip that low again. So that's the point I was trying to make. OK, thank you.
I think there was a hand back there. OK, thanks.
AUDIENCE: Your mention of advocacy, Maria Cristina, gives me an opportunity to bring up a Cornell organization that is forming called Cornell Welcomes Refugees. And if people want to get in touch with it, the name might be one of the co-presidents, Ian Wallace, W-A-L-L-A-C-E. So they should sort of contact and send Ian an email. And we'll see how he responds for that and so forth.
But anyway, but one of the things I'd like to bring up in addition to that is the question of repatriation, because playing with these numbers and reducing them produces situations which encourage forced repatriation agreements, which is pretty terrible, as is going on now in the case of Bangladesh and the UN's agreement with the Myanmar government to repatriate people to Myanmar itself, where they have no protection and nothing at all.
Bangladesh would be favorable to do that. But nobody's paying attention to the fact that these people are going to face a pretty bad situation. So you produce these kind of possibilities for a forced repatriation by keeping those kinds of numbers low.
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: Thank you. Thanks, John. I think your hand was up. OK, thank you, this young man in the green. Thanks.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for the talk, professor. So you mentioned how our legal system, in dealing with asylum seekers and refugees, is kind of arbitrary and capricious in nature. So how would you propose that we standardize that? Because I personally don't see a workable solution, unlike, for example, federal sentencing guidelines for crimes.
Asylum seeking, making the determinations for these type of cases is necessarily subjective. So how do you propose that we overhaul this?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: That's a good point. And there are actually two tracks within the asylum system. There is the affirmative asylum track and the defensive asylum track.
So if you arrive at a port of entry and ask immediately for asylum, that's known as an affirmative asylum track. And that directs you into one part of the asylum bureaucracy. If you make it onto US territory and you are, say, stopped by ICE, and you ask for asylum at that point, that puts you into the defensive track for asylum.
And so the defensive track puts you in front of an immigration judge. The affirmative track puts you in front of an asylum officer from USCIS. And the burden of proof is even harder on the defensive track, because the perception is that you are trying to deceive, that you will say anything in order to be able to stay in the United States. So the burden of proof is always much, much higher on the defensive track, which makes it even more difficult to standardize decisions in some cases. Thanks.
Any other questions? Thank you. OK, another hand.
AUDIENCE: I had a follow up to my colleague here. In terms of the Presidential Determination, can you give any insight in how that evolved? And could there be changes to it, and what's involved?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: Yeah, usually, before the Presidential Determination, a draft was sent to Congress and sent to different parties for comment. And then once all those comments are taken into account, then the final Presidential Determination is offered.
And it's during that transitional period when they're hearing comments that congressional briefings, especially congressional testimony, congressional briefings, that refugee advocates, refugee groups can play a strong role in kind of fixing those numbers or shifting those numbers a bit. And then the final determination is offered. But there's always a transitional period.
So the new Presidential Determination will be will be issued soon. But over these past couple of months, the Trump administration supposedly has been consulting with somebody to determine what the numbers will be and how the numbers will be carved up, what parts.
You might be interested to know that this past year, I mentioned that we haven't met the 45,000 refugee quota for fiscal year 2018. And according to the most recent calculations of those who have come in, the number of Christian refugees have been disproportionately overrepresented this year.
I do not mean to say that non-Christian refugees have been blocked, because we have received refugees who are not Christian. But it's been interesting to note that Christians predominate in the refugee admissions. Vicki?
AUDIENCE: So given all the problems that John was talking about about forced repatriation or the subjective criteria being used, obviously, we're seeing asylum being chipped away not only in this country, but in Europe too. So I'm just wondering what your assessment about the future of asylum policy really is and whether international bodies have any power to exert any controls other than moral pressure, really.
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: That's the million dollar question, Vicki. I think that's excellent. Moral pressure has always been at the heart of refugee policy. It's a humanitarian policy.
One could argue that refugee policy and asylum policy makes no sense, that it doesn't really served the United States. Its worth is in its moral power, right? It's in its humanitarian power.
We have always prided ourselves on being a place of refuge. The symbols associated with immigration in this country are beacons of welcome, of refuge. And that's part of our tradition, the way we see ourselves as a nation.
And it would be very sad, it seems to me, if we were to continue to abandon that humanitarian tradition in the years to come. And what that might ultimately mean for who we are as a people and how we see ourselves and our place in the world, I don't know.
AUDIENCE: Actually, you started the talk by discussing the ideological reasons that might have been for refugees. And now those reasons no longer exist. Do you think that's part of why asylum policy is being peeled away?
MARIA CRISTINA GARCIA: No. In the immediate post-Cold War period, say, from 1989 to 9/11, the people who were being brought in as refugees, there were so many more reasons why people were being brought in as refugees. It really opened up the definition of refugee in a way that was very exciting, at least to me.
So we were bringing in victims of trafficking. We were bringing women who were experiencing domestic violence. We were bringing in all kinds of people for humanitarian reasons. And then 9/11 came along. And then suddenly, the war on terror becomes the lens through which we interpret who a refugee is.
There's this concern that we may be inadvertently bringing in tariffs through these different immigration tracks. And the fears were understandable. But the data doesn't back it up, which is one of the reasons why I cited the libertarian Cato Institute, because even they, looking for evidence, weren't able to find it.
So again, I would hate for us to abandon the humanitarian tradition. And I say this as a refugee myself. My family were the beneficiaries of this humanitarian policy. And the opportunities that we have enjoyed this in this country are because of that humanitarian policy. And so I would hate for the US to abandon that track. Thanks.
OK, any other questions? No? Thank you so much for coming out this afternoon.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Current refugee policies and the politics of protection have become increasingly complex and contentious over the last couple of years. How have domestic politics and national security concerns shaped policies in the United States since the Cold War? For over forty years, concerns about the threat of communism had a large role in determining US refugee and asylum policies, and the majority of those admitted as refugees came from communist countries. In the post-Cold War period, a wider range of geopolitical and domestic interests influence decisions about who will be admitted, and more recently, sympathy toward refugees and immigrants has dissipated greatly.
Join us for a Chats in the Stacks book talk by Maria Cristina Garcia, the Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies in the Department of History at Cornell. Her new book The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America Oxford University Press, 2017 examines the actors and interests that have shaped refugee and asylum policy since 1989. Policymakers are now considering a wider range of populations as potentially eligible for protection, but a growing number of asylum seekers who have petitioned for protection are backlogging the immigration courts. Concerns over national security have also resulted in deterrence policies that have raised important questions about the rights of refugees and the duties of nations.Professor Garcia holds a joint appointment in the Cornell Latina/o Studies Program and has served as President of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society.