Sunday, March 20, 2022



Why do we make it so hard for refugees fleeing violence in their homeland?

By Christopher Kerosky

Published in the Sonoma County Gazette:

In the 1980’s our country permitted large numbers of refugees from countries of the former Soviet Union to immigrate here. Our nation also opened it’s doors to those fleeing the repressive regimes in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  And Cubans were entitled to asylum as soon as they landed on U.S. soil.

Almost all of these refugees were provided legal status, a right to work and even limited government assistance; and later they could apply for permanent residence and U.S. citizenship. 

So why has it been so hard for refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan to come here? Will the same fate await the refugees from the Ukraine – now numbering 3 million and growing?

Our Refugee Program and Procedure.

When a refugee applies for admission to the U.S. from abroad, they are governed by the U.S. refugee law and the limited numbers and long waits that apply. 

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), foreign nationals qualify for status as a refugee if they can prove they have experienced past persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  This definition is based on the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which the U.S. is a signatory.  Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which incorporated the Convention’s definition into U.S. law. 

Persons applying for refugee status must be approved through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  First, applicants mustt apply with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which they have fled.  If UNHCR deems the applicants eligible and suitable for resettlement to the U.S., they will then undergo a lengthy vetting process by the U.S. Department of State in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

They are also subject to annual numerical limitations set by each administration. Usually, there are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in assisting the refugee family with transition to life in the U.S.  Refugee immigration to the U.S. takes a long time due to these annual numerical quotas and the limited resources of these NGOs.    

Numerical Limits on Refugee Acceptance.

Historically, the U.S. offered refuge to more people than all the other countries of the world combined.  That changed recently. 

Donald Trump slashed the annual quota of refugees from 110,000 per year under Barack Obama to an all-time low of 18,000.  Moreover, due to budget cuts and extreme vetting implemented by the Trump Administration, far fewer refugees were actually admitted – only 11,814 in 2020.  Moreover, under the so-called “Muslim Ban”, refugees from countries like Syria were banned altogether.

Shortly after taking office, President Biden raised the refugee quota to 65,000. 

Some good news for Ukrainians: relief from COVID bar and Temporary Protected Status

The Biden Administration also announced an exception to the continuing Title 42 policy restricting asylum applications at the Southern border due to COVID.  Ukrainians seeking asylum at the Mexican border will not be automatically turned away, but will be considered on a case-to-case basis.   

The Administration also granted Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainian citizens already here.  This means those already here can stay at least 18 months and obtain a work permit.

It remains to be seen whether our country’s refugee policies will be more generous in light of the flood of those fleeing Ukraine.  Almost certainly, the road to a U.S. border will be a long one and far fewer refugees will be admitted by our country than most European nations.  Poland has already admitted over 2 million through its borders for resettlement; Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania: about one million more.  Germany, France, England, and almost all the EU countries have agreed to accept hundreds of thousands.   

Give Us Your Tired, Huddled Masses, Yearning to Be Free.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Those words of Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty have inspired generations of immigrants to seek refuge here.

It’s hard to imagine clearer images of “tired, huddled masses yearning to be free” then those of the refugees fleeing Ukraine – as well as those from Syria, Afghanistan and Central America before them. 

It’s time the U.S. once again step forward and adopt more humane refugee policies worthy of its long immigrant tradition.  The need has never been greater.


CHRISTOPHER A. KEROSKY of the law firm of KEROSKY PURVES & BOGUE has practiced immigration law for over 25 years.   He graduated from University of California, Berkeley Law School and was a former counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. 

Mr. Kerosky has been recognized as one of the top lawyers in Northern California for over 10 years by “Super Lawyers”.  See

WARNING: The foregoing is a summary generally discussing legal issues. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. We recommend that you get competent legal advice specific to your case before filing any application or petition.

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