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Should The U.S. Allow Private Refugee Sponsorship?

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A Louisville-based advertising agency made news last weekwith their announcement that they will, as a company, sponsor the resettlement of a family in the area. But the term “sponsor” is a technical — and complicated — term when it comes to who can step up to invite refugees into a country.

When people hear about refugee sponsorship, the example that may come to mind is from our neighbors up north.

“Canada has a very extensive private sponsorship program, which brings in as many — sometimes more than the government sponsored track,” said Kathleen Newland, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

She said Canada is one country that allows private citizens and organizations to sponsor refugees. This means they provide food, rent, clothing, and other support for resettled refugees. Privately-sponsored refugees also go through background checks and screenings.

But the U.S. doesn’t do that. When refugees come here, often it’s because their resettlement is officially facilitated by the U.S. State Department. Sometimes it’s also because they already have family members living in the United States. Family members can technically “sponsor” a refugee, though they still have to go through the government.

Of course, refugees in the U.S. get help from private citizens through resettlement agencies, churches and private organizations. But that’s still not technically sponsorship. And some people, like Newland, say moving to a model more like Canada’s could be a smarter move in the long run.

“Private sponsorship could be a way to accept more refugees without adding to the fiscal burden of the refugee program,” Newland said.

Maria Koerner is assistant director of the Kentucky Office of Refugees with Catholic Charities. Koerner said allowing for private sponsorship in the U.S. would be a good thing.

"I don’t think it would hurt the local agencies as long as there are clear guidelines,” she said.

The guidelines she’s referring to include services such as school enrollment, vaccinations and employment services.

She said one of the benefits to relying on local resettlement agencies to facilitate refugee resettlement is that they have bilingual and experienced staff. This, she said, adds another check to the process and provides more assistance helping refugees resettle.

Approximately 19,000 refugees have been resettled in Louisville since 1994, not including those who entered under the Special Immigrant Visa program or the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program — both groups are eligible for refugee benefits.   

The number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle next fiscal year remains unknown. The current federal fiscal year ends September 30 and that’s the deadline for President Trump to determine the number of refugees allowed into the country for the next year.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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