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Sauerbrey: Undocumented children at the border are not 'refugees' [Letter]

I read with interest Dan Rodricks' column, "World's refugee crisis comes to the U.S. and Maryland" (July 22). He describes the current flow of Central Americans across our southern border as the "biggest refugee crisis since World War II."

Having served during the Bush administration as assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, I need to challenge Mr. Rodricks' commentary.

First, the thousands of people pouring into the U.S. today are not refugees. The 1951 Refugee Convention clearly spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." Few if any of the new arrivals fit that description.

Some claim that the recent flood of migrants pouring into the U.S. has been caused by violence in Central American countries. Unfortunately crime, drugs and violence have long been a way of life in these countries; however the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime statistics actually show a decline in homicide rates in El Salvador Honduras and Guatemala.

According to interviews with our new "guests," the primary reason for the current migration to the United States is widely circulating rumors in home countries that unaccompanied children and adult females traveling with minors will be given free passes allowing them to stay. They are no different than millions of people living in poverty and violence around the world who would like to come to the United States to pursue a better life and economic opportunity.

Refugees and migrants are treated very differently under modern international law. Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move in order to save their lives or preserve their freedom.

U.S. refugee policy is focused foremost on creating situations that allow refugees to return home, which most hope to do one day. We provide humanitarian assistance to countries giving refugee asylum, in some cases for decades. In most countries refugees are kept in bleak refugee camps and are not free to move around the country. Only a tiny percentage of the world's refugees, who have no hope of repatriation, are resettled permanently in the U.S.

In recent years, our resettlement quota has been set at around 50,000 to 70,000 annually. Unlike the current migrants violating our border, refugees who are accepted for resettlement must first have undergone extensive background security checks to ensure that they pose no threat to America. Refugee applicants must clear all required security checks prior to final approval of their application, including biographical name checks for all refugee applicants and fingerprint checks for refugee applicants aged 14 to 79.

We know nothing of the identity or background of most of the illegal migrants currently being given easy entry to the U.S and flown and bussed around the country by the current administration. Those who believe that most will show up at a future hearing to determine if they should be granted asylum are delusional.

Ellen Sauerbrey, Baldwin

The writer is former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

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