CIS: Caring for Refugees 12 Times More Expensive in U.S. than in Middle East

This month, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a report calculating how much each refugee from the Middle East costs American taxpayers to resettle and reside for five years in the U.S. (CIS Report, Nov. 2015) The cost, which CIS calculated using Census Bureau data and includes both resettlement costs and welfare payments, is $64,370 per refugee, an average cost 12 times what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested to care for each Syrian refugee in countries neighboring Syria. (Id.)

The UNHCR has also reported that it needs $2.5 billion in additional funding to care for the approximately four million Syrians in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. (Id.) Thus, according to CIS’s calculations, the U.S. could make up the entire UNHCR funding gap for all of the refugees if it advanced the five-year cost of resettling 39,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. (Id.)

Much of the cost of resettling Middle Eastern refugees in the U.S. is a result of their high use of welfare. (Id.) Unlike other new legal immigrants, refugees are eligible for all welfare programs upon arrival. (Id.; see also, FAIR Legislative Update, Sept. 15, 2015) According to the 2013 Annual Survey of Refugees, among previous Middle Eastern refugees, welfare usage has included: 32.2 percent receiving Supplement Security Income; 36.7 percent receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; 17.3 percent receiving General Assistance; 91.4 percent receiving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps); 18.7 percent living in public housing; and 73.1 percent on Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance. (CIS Report, Nov. 2015)

Nor do the costs vanish after the refugee has been settled for five years. (Id.) While the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services often reports that most refugees are “self-sufficient” within five years, ORR defines “self-sufficiency” as simply not receiving cash welfare. (Id.) A household that uses public housing, food stamps, or Medicaid is still considered “self-sufficient.” (Id.)

The report seriously calls into question whether President Obama’s plan of accepting tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East is the “humanitarian” course to take. (See, e.g. Senate Judiciary Hearing, Oct. 1, 2015) In a world where taxpayers do not have infinite resources to spend on refugees, the U.S. can provide more humanitarian relief by spending its resources helping abroad instead of through refugee resettlement. And of course, if the U.S. chose foreign aid over resettlement, it could both help more refugees, and avoid the serious security threats inherent in accepting tens of thousands of aliens from a part of the world where the infrastructure necessary to conduct background checks does not exist. (See id.)

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