The 30th Anniversary of the 1980 Refugee Act: What the Refugee Program’s History Suggests for a Better Future
Monday, March 15, 2010
US Capitol Building, Room HC-6
Representative James McGovern, Third Congressional District of Massachusetts and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Congressional Human Rights Commission
Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao, Second Congressional District of Louisiana
António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Kathleen Newland, Director, Refugee Policy Program, Migration Policy Institute
| The Refugee Act of 1980, a bipartisan bill, represented the commitment of the US government to refugee protection through the resettlement and asylum programs. From the resettlement of the Vietnamese boat people and refugees fleeing the former Soviet Union, to the Sudanese Lost Boys and today's Iraqi and Bhutanese refugees, the refugee resettlement program has been an enduring symbol of the US commitment to protect those who flee persecution. Refugee resettlement also plays a crucial role in US foreign policy and humanitarian assistance. The Act also created the US asylum system, through which people who arrive on our shores and are in need of protection can start new lives free from harm. The Act's 30-year anniversary offers an opportunity for reflection. Refugees and asylees in the United States have revitalized communities and contributed greatly to the nation's diverse cultural heritage. The impact of the economic crisis, the decrease in assistance, and the increased diversity and needs of resettled populations raise important questions about the need to reform the program, both in structure and funding. In addition, improvements are needed in the asylum system to ensure access and fairness. This is the time to look back to see how policymakers and interested communities can look forward and work to bring the refugee and asylum programs into the 21st century.