Experts Break Down the United States Refugee Admissions Program

Marjean Perhot (Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston), Lisa Brennan (Ascentria Health Care Alliance), and Vivie Hengst (State Office of Refugees and Immigrants) spoke about the Syrian Refugee Crisis at Tuesday's brown bag program.

Marjean Perhot (Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston), Lisa Brennan (Ascentria Health Care Alliance), and Vivie Hengst (State Office of Refugees and Immigrants) gave a practical overview of the laws and processes for Syrian refugees. 

The issue of admitting refugees into the United States has been publicly discussed with increasing frequency as tensions in Syria have escalated and life there has become more dangerous. This week at the BBA, Immigration Section Co-Chair Iris Gomez and Asylum Committee Co-Chair Ani Ajemian sought to shed some light on the long, complicated process of entering the United States as a refugee, and the role that state governments play in that process.

They hosted three speakers who were able to bring diverse perspectives to a brown bag program. Marjean Perhot, Director of Refugee and Immigration Services for the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston, spoke about the many hurdles a person must clear in order to be granted admission to the country as a refugee.

Lisa Brennan, Program Manager at Ascentria Health Care Alliance, spoke about the steps her staff members take to help refugees adjust to life in America once they’re here, such as offering employment assistance and help applying for necessary documents.

Vivie Hengst, General Counsel for the State Office of Refugees and Immigrants, spoke about the process by which the federal government assigns a location to a refugee for resettlement.

In a PowerPoint presentation, the trio explained that refugees are just a “drop in the bucket” compared to the total number of immigrants in the United States. Marjean explained that only about one percent of the applicants make it through the federal government’s rigorous screening procedures, which begin long before a potential refugee leaves his or her home country.

Relocating refugees to another country is actually the least preferred option for both individual refugees and the agencies who help them, Marjean said. But sometimes there is no other option.

“Wouldn’t we love everybody to go back to their homes, to their familiar places? But that just is not the case for so many people,” Marjean said.

Vivie said about 10,000 refugees are expected to enter the country from Syria this year, and it is the federal government’s job to decide where they go. They are assigned a location based on a variety of factors, including the existing population of refugees in a given area, the cost of housing, and more.

The program offered those unfamiliar with the refugee immigration process a step-by-step overview. Participants were interested in learning more from the panelists after the program’s conclusion.