The NCSL Blog

28

By Lancy Downs

Over the past year, crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine have led to an influx of refugees from these countries to the United States. Both governmental agencies and non-profit organizations are helping them to resettle and build new lives here in the U.S.  

Screenshot from refugee briefingState legislators from NCSL’s Immigration Task Force received a virtual briefing on July 12 from three officials leading these resettlement efforts: Ken Tota, deputy director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Administration of Children and Families; Genevieve Kessler, director of state advocacy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC); and Olivia Whiteley, advocacy officer at the IRC.  

Tota outlined the major themes of ORR’s work with both Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, which is executed through partnerships with state refugee coordinator offices and local resettlement agencies. 

For Afghan evacuees, the agency has focused on providing permanent housing, mental health services and school-based wrap-around supports. To connect Ukrainian arrivals with ORR benefits and other longer-term services, the office has launched a new case management program and is providing additional allocations to state resettlement agencies supporting Ukrainian refugees locally.  

This spring, the ORR also expanded the eligibility period for Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance from eight months to 12 months. Tota hopes this longer eligibility window will ease the burdens new arrivals face, including learning English, adjusting to a new culture and finding a job.   

Whiteley addressed the opportunities and challenges the IRC has seen in the past year. The influx of arrivals from Afghanistan and Ukraine has prompted key innovations in resettlement processes, including the increased use of community sponsorship and the modernization of the 40-year-old Refugee Admissions Program. For example, a new online case management program for Afghans helps resettlement officers more easily serve refugees located far from brick-and-mortar resettlement centers.  

Whether Afghan and Ukrainian refugees will be able to stay in the U.S. permanently remains up in the air. Most new arrivals have entered on a temporary status called humanitarian parole, which expires two years after an individual arrives in the U.S. For these refugees to remain in the country legally after two years, Congress must pass an adjustment act, which creates a pathway to permanent residency. Congress enacted similar legislation for Cuban refugees in the 1960s and for Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s

Whiteley explained that state legislators who support an adjustment act for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees can contact their Congressional representatives, submit op-eds in local newspapers and/or encourage their caucus to pass a resolution supporting the passage of an adjustment act in Congress.  

The IRC’s Genevieve Kessler closed the session with an overview of state policy trends related to refugees and resettlement. Examples of recent trends include supplementing federal funding for resettlement with state dollars, opening up in-state tuition eligibility to newly arrived refugees, expanding English language learning programs in K-12 schools, removing barriers to professional licensure for refugees and providing publicly funded immigration legal services.  

As the resettlement efforts for Ukrainian and Afghan arrivals evolves, NCSL will continue to keep state legislators and staff updated on the latest policy developments on the federal and state levels.  

Lancy Downs is an intern in NCSL's Civil and Criminal Justice Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.