U.S. Proud of Immigrant Tradition, State’s Sauerbrey Says

By Michelle Austein
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States remains a welcoming country to immigrants and refugees and is a leader in assisting refugees and migrants worldwide, says U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey.

Sauerbrey's January 12 speech marked the Vatican’s 93rd World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 14.  Acknowledging the day as an occasion to build awareness and recognition of the importance of improving the lives and the opportunities of migrants and refugees, Sauerbrey spoke to students and community members at Georgetown University in Washington, the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

The assistant secretary said the American people and the U.S. government work hard to assure immigrants integrate into their communities while retaining their cultural heritage.

"The United States is proud, I think justifiably, because of our tradition as an immigrant nation," Sauerbrey said. "We are the nation that we are today because of the important contributions of our immigrants."

Between 2000 and 2005, some 3.7 million immigrants became U.S. citizens. During that same period, the United States granted legal residence to 5.8 million people.


A small number of these immigrants came to the United States as refugees, or people who fled their home countries for reasons including war, political strife and religious persecution.

The United States is the world's largest refugee-resettlement country, Sauerbrey said.

More than 2.6 million refugees have found a home in the United States since 1970. In the past year, the United States admitted 41,000 refugees from 60 countries. The United States admits more refugees than all other nations combined, Sauerbrey said.

Extensive efforts are made to help refugees feel at home in their new country and lead useful, productive lives, she said.  In Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, the nonprofit organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps refugees find jobs, enroll their children in school and take care of medical needs. Within four months after their arrival, nearly 100 percent of these refugees are economically self-sufficient. In November 2006, Sauerbrey visited Charlottesville and met many of these refugees. (See related article).

Many refugees have a positive effect on their communities, Sauerbrey said. In Utica, New York, the refugee population - which includes Bosnians, Somalis and Sudanese - is credited with revitalizing the city's economy and housing, she said.


Not all refugees are able to be resettled in the United States, nor do they want to do so, Sauerbrey said.

"The vast majority of people who are refugees want to go home. And one day we hope to be able to help them go home in safety and dignity," she said.

Resettlement is available only to a small number of people, Sauerbrey said. Probably fewer than 100,000 people worldwide will be resettled in the coming year, which is a typical annual number, the assistant secretary said.

The United States spends $600 million a year working with the United Nations and other international organizations to provide assistance to refugees throughout the world, she said. The U.S. government assists refugee camps by providing better access to appropriate nutrition, clean water, education, health care and skills training.

Child refugees are among the most vulnerable population in the world, Sauerbrey said, which is why assisting children is among the United States' top priorities. Child refugees are exposed to malnutrition or disease and are at risk for being sexually exploited or being recruited as child soldiers.

In a recent trip to several African refugee and internally displaced people camps, Sauerbrey visited programs funded by the United States through nongovernmental organizations designed to help these children. She visited pre-school and vocational education programs in camps in Kenya and was impressed, she said, by the eagerness of the refugee children to learn.

"Access to education for boys and girls, and keeping girls in school longer provides a way out of despair," she said.

Another priority is stopping gender-based violence. The State Department has provided significant funding to help assure that refugee camps are safe for women and girls. Since 2002, the United States has required its partners to adopt a code of conduct to protect refugee women from sexual exploitation and abuse.

"The United States is doing its share, but a lot of countries need to step up to the plate and join us," Sauerbrey said. "Because we can never meet all the needs that are out there unless it is a worldwide, global effort."

For more information on U.S. policies, see Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees.