White House Blocks Report Showing Societal Benefits of Refugees in the US

When the President released his second travel ban, it was accompanied by a Presidential Memorandum in which he called on the secretary of state to consult with the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security and his White House budget director and — “[t]o further ensure transparency for the American people regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of our immigration programs in serving the national interest” — submit within 180 days “a report detailing the estimated long-term costs of the United States Refugee Admissions Program at the federal, state, and local levels, along with recommendations about how to curtail those costs.” As noted by the New York Times, the budget Trump released in May argued that refugees and other immigrants were a fiscal drain. “Under the refugee program, the federal government brings tens of thousands of entrants into the United States, on top of existing legal immigration flows, who are instantly eligible for time-limited cash benefits and numerous noncash federal benefits, including food assistance through SNAP, medical care and education, as well as a host of state and local benefits.” It would be less costly, it argued, if there were fewer refugees, since “each refugee admitted into the United States comes at the expense of helping a potentially greater number out of country.”  The White House apparently thought it was perfectly clear that the President was not interested in hearing about any benefits brought by refugees….

The internal (State, HHS, DHS) study, completed in late July but never publicly released, was obtained by The New York Times. The draft found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.” This report was spiked but, the Times notes, it was not clear who in the administration decided to keep the benefits-of-refugees information out of the final report. An internal email (shown to the Times), dated Sept. 5 and sent among officials from government agencies involved in refugee issues, said that “senior leadership is questioning the assumptions used to produce the report.”

A separate email said that Stephen Miller had requested a meeting to discuss the report. Mr. Miller personally intervened in internal discussions on the refugee admissions cap — done by an annual presidential determination usually coordinated by the National Security Council and led in large part by the State Department — to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered, according to two people familiar with the talks.

John Graham, the acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS, told the Times that Trump’s memorandum “seeks an analysis related to the cost of refugee programs. Therefore, the only analysis in the scope of H.H.S.’s response to the memo would be on refugee-related expenditures from data within H.H.S. programs.” And, indeed, the three-page report HHS submitted, dated Sept. 5, uses government data to compare only the costs of refugees to Americans: “In an average year over the 10-year period, per-capita refugee costs for major H.H.S. programs totaled $3,300,” it says. “Per-person costs for the U.S. population were lower, at $2,500, reflecting a greater participation of refugees in H.H.S. programs, especially during their first four years” in the United States.

Considering that “The actual report pursuant to the presidential memorandum” focused only “refugees with few skills coming from war-torn countries” (according to Raj Shah, a White House spokesman), the President got exactly what he wants from Secretary Tom Price.

 

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