The United States cannot be the haven for all people
A STATE Department panel chaired by former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray has urged resettlement of many of the 154,000 refugees now in Southeast Asian camps. Mr. Ray said that, although the United States has already welcomed 800,000 Asian refugees since 1975, we should take the lead in solving the problem. The panel also recommended that we mount a concerted campaign to permit reeducation-camp inmates in Vietnam to come here. That's a noble goal. But is it attainable, and what is the cost? More than a decade after the fall of South Vietnam, Indochinese refugees continue to arrive at Southeast Asian camps every day. Can we be blamed for being skeptical about our ability to solve the problem?Skip to next paragraph
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We learned that we cannot be the world's police officer. And now we are learning a painful new lesson in Southeast Asia -- that we cannot be the world's haven for all who live under oppression.
The proliferation of refugees is not unique to Indochina. It is a worldwide phenomenon. W. R. Smyser, the United Nations' deputy high commissioner for refugees, wrote that the second half of the 20th century has witnessed an unprecedented explosion in the number and impact of refugees. Describing the global refugee situation as ``immense, tenacious, and omnipresent,'' he said that there are now more than 10 million refugees, found on every continent and in virtually every nation. They exist in spite of recent hurculean efforts that have resettled more than 2.5 million third-world refugees in Western countries.
UN Deputy Commissioner Smyser explained that in addition to those in Southeast Asian camps, there are more than 4 million in Southwest Asia, 2.5 million in Central and East Africa, 2 million in the Middle East, and 300,000 in Central America. A steady stream continues to flee Soviet-bloc countries. Significant groups have found temporary asylum in dozens of other lands.
What we're seeing is not temporary, but a long-term reality. In Mr. Smyser's words, it's ``a never-ending story.'' The global problem is not going to disappear. On the contrary, inevitable new hot spots such as Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa will test the limits of our compassion if they produce refugee floods.
America already accepts more refugees for resettlement than the rest of the world combined. Can we continue on this course? We are not only trying to absorb large new infusions of refugees, but are also taking in significantly increased numbers of immigrants and illegal aliens. Isn't this analogous to Congress, in the years before the Gramm-Rudman antideficit law, spending billions on a cornucopia of well-intentioned programs with no restraining mechanism? At some point, our zeal to share what we have can cause us to lose what we have.
We should not kid ourselves about the cost of resettling refugees from very different cultures, who typically do not speak English or possess marketable job skills. Initial resettlement is a multibillon-dollar business. A University of Michigan study found that virtually all Southeast Asian refugees begin their life in America on welfare. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which monitors refugees in their first three years in this country, says that 52.4 percent of those refugees receive cash public assistance.