Earlier today, 22 Maryland state lawmakers urged Secretary of State John Kerry to launch a privately funded refugee program that would allow the American people to contribute towards increasing resettlement totals. The Niskanen Center has been leading the effort to launch such a program since last year, and applauds the Maryland lawmakers action in this crucial time.
The letter comes in the midst of an unprecedented global refugee crisis, which has left more than 21 million people in need of assistance. The United States is resettling a mere 85,000 refugees this year, but private sector contributions can provide the funding to substantially increase that number, while maintaining the rigorous security measures already in place for refugee admissions.
The U.S. must put all options on the table in order to aggressively respond to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Providing the American people with a tangible outlet to support refugee resettlement helps bolster efforts to provide refuge to those fleeing war and persecution.
The letter proclaims that "American citizens, charities, foundations, faith groups, universities, and businesses should have the right to contribute towards increased refugee resettlement." Under current law, no amount of contributions can go towards increased the refugee ceiling determined by the president. The push to reverse that policy is gaining momentum.
The legislators point to several statements and resolutions from the local level that "show that there is an appetite [in Maryland] for increased engagement in the resettlement process." The Maryland lawmakers are confident that the current system is unnecessarily putting "a ceiling on American generosity."
For more evidence, the letter points to the wildly successful private programs in Canada and other countries, highlighting America as "an outlier." I have written more about this trend in a USA Today op-ed earlier this year.
The letter notes that "America has a responsibility to families escaping violence and persecution." If citizens want to directly contribute to meeting that responsibility, the representatives stated, the government should not stop them.
The Maryland lawmakers are the latest members in a growing movement in favor of private resettlement as an alternative pathway for refugees from around the world. Since last September, a bipartisan group in Congress has expressed support and prominent Syrian, Arab, Turkish, and Muslim American organizations have signed a letter spearheaded by the Niskanen Center to President Obama in favor of the idea.
Private resettlement could alter the underlying political narrative surrounding the U.S. response to the refugee crisis. Instead of the misleading picture of the government pushing for resettlement alone, it would demonstrate the philanthropic nature of the American people in the groundswell of private support for resettlement.
Next month, the UN General Assembly and President Obama are both hosting summits on refugees in the hopes to increasing funding and resettlement slots worldwide. The summit would afford President Obama the perfect opportunity to announce a new private program in the United States that increases overall admissions by tapping the private sector.
The State Department should listen to the Maryland lawmakers. The American people have a storied tradition of hospitality and generosity, and the time has come to finally apply it to the Syrian refugee crisis.