Why the Refugee Act of 1980 needs to be rewritten or struck down



I was somewhat startled to read that President Obama is going to expand the number of refugees unilaterally, without any input from Congress:

The Obama administration will increase the number of worldwide refugees the United States accepts to 100,000 by 2017, a significant increase over the current annual cap of 70,000, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.

Many of these will be Muslims. And that is after taking in 280,000 in the last year alone. And after they've been here a year, they will be able to apply for permanent residence. We have no way of vetting any of these people. Some are undoubtedly supporters of the dominant powers in Syria and Iraq, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. We will be importing the kind of intolerance that has destroyed Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

And the President is doing this unilaterally. Under the awful United States Refugee Act of 1980, the President can admit 50,000 refugees a year, and if he certifies an emergency, he can admit an unlimited number, for a year. That's right, unlimited.
But only for a year!

But then the following year, he can also admit an unlimited number. And the year after that, and so on.

And Congress gave him the ability to do this, under the 1980 act. I imagine the rationale was that the President needed the ability to act flexibly in an emergency. No one could conceive of a President trying to import whole populations into the United States, both legally and otherwise. There probably was a line of thought that if the President used this power excessively, Congress would confront him using the power of the purse. No one considered a situation where we have a predatory President like Obama and a supine Congress led by sheeple like Boehner and McConnell.

That's why the 1980 act needs to be changed to set hard numerical caps for the number of refugees who are allowed into the country. Don't let the GOP claim "oh, we can't get 60 votes in the Senate to change the law". They only need 51 if they attach it to the State Department appropriations, then it can't be filibustered.

But don't count on Congress doing that any time soon.

The only other possibility I could see is if a Congressman challenged the constitutionality of the 1980 Act in court. While Congress clearly delegated the power to set the upper number of refugees to the President, there are powers under the Constitution the Congress cannot delegate. For example, the Congress cannot delegate the appropriations process or the ability to declare war to the President. And we know the Congress has the power to set limits on who is made a citizen and who is not. So perhaps the power to unilaterally decide how many refugees to be let in is not something that can be left wholly up to the executive.

Given our effete judiciary (effete at least when it comes to checking the power of the executive branch), such an appeal is not extremely promising. But speaking out, legislating, challenging in court--our representatives should be trying to do something.

(Abridged version originally published in AT)



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