Human Rights are Refugee Rights: The Protection of Economic Rights for Refugees in the United States
In the past few decades, the United States has made conscious efforts to protect refugees. Until recently, the U.S. offered refuge to more people than all other nations combined. The Trump administration has gradually shut down refugee admission, resulting in the admittance of only about 22,500 refugees in 2018. The Trump administration has proposed massive funding cuts to programs that support refugees and a heightening of screening processes. The proposal entails passing executive orders that will enhance the employment security process and will include in-depth face-to-face interviews and supplemental questionnaires.
As the U.S. holds responsibility for a large number of refugees, all refugees should receive the same economic rights, including the right to employment, fair wages, and economic stability as any other foreigner who is a legal resident. Though this piece will discuss the recognition of refugees’ economic rights, it is also important to recognize that many legal residents’ economic rights are also often violated and unfulfilled. However, it is still crucial that refugees are granted the rights outlined in the applicable legal frameworks. The primary legal instruments used to protect refugee rights are the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Refugee Act of 1980, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Violations of these legal standards often include the state’s failure to provide favorable employment opportunities, fair economic wages, and a sufficient amount of resettlement programs and support systems.
It is further important to recognize the intersectionality between the right to work and the other essential human rights including the right to food, water, and an adequate standard of living. Being able to work affects refugees’ income and financial stability, which ultimately broadens their access to adequate food, water, housing, and a better quality of life.
When people flee their homes as a result of persecution and conflict, these individuals often lose everything, making it necessary for them to start from scratch when it comes to earning and saving. For example, in 2013, many Afghan refugees were forced to give all their resources and property to the Taliban before resettling – leaving them with nothing. They arrived to the US impoverished, causing them to face significant economic challenges. Furthermore, the UN has estimated that, at any given time, 125 million asylum seekers are in search of a more stable economic environment and future. Refugees’ right to work is necessary as it is a source of support to rebuild their lives and develop a sense of self-sufficiency, allowing them to overcome their prior experiences of persecution in their homeland.
Furthermore, before resettling, many of these refugees face traumatic experiences that can add stress to the process of adjusting and transitioning. These prior experiences can result in additional disadvantages. Oftentimes asylum seekers have faced traumatic events in their home countries including sexual or physical abuse, torture, bombings, destruction of homes and schools, separation from family members, and witnessing violence and death. In 2000, a survey was sent out to 47 refugees regarding their resettlement. More than half expressed a rough transition due to the absence of supportive relationships (including friends and family). One of the surveyed refugees from Sarajevo claimed that the separation from extended family led to feelings of depression and social isolation. Certain refugees face unacknowledged setbacks that place them at even larger disadvantages making it even more difficult to gain stability and employment. In addition to prior experiences, many refugees have to face discrimination during their adjustment to resettling. Since 9/11, reports of workplace discrimination, particularly towards Arabs and Muslims have increased dramatically, leading the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to receive three times the number of claims from Muslims in 2001 compared to the previous year. Refugees often face discrimination from employers that do not want to hire foreigners or racial minorities. Many employers often do not want to train and assist refugees as it is disruptive to their work environment and not cost-effective. Studies have shown that discrimination has negatively impacted refugees’ mental health and perception of their employment capabilities and skills. The state must intervene by reevaluating the legal framework of refugees’ rights and enforcing the relevant legal instruments to ensure all employers and businesses respect and uphold refugees’ economic rights.
Providing economic rights to refugees benefits the U.S. through economic growth. The New York Times reported that between 2005 and 2014, refugees contributed “$63 billion more to government revenue than they used in public services.” At first, the services refugees receive cost more than what they pay in taxes, but in the long-run, they end up paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Refugees contribute to the economy by expanding consumer markets for goods, bringing in new skills, creating employment, filling empty employment opportunities, providing innovation, and stimulating economic growth.
The government should be taking proactive steps to ensure refugees’ economic rights are protected so they can resettle and become self-sufficient. Refugees are vulnerable and face instability; their economic rights must be acknowledged through monetary relief. Not only is it important that their human rights are upheld but providing them financial stability will prompt additional economic growth as the economy benefits from their economic contributions. Moving forward, the state is entirely responsible to intervene and grant refugees with access to fair economic conditions and opportunities through recognizing all legal instruments regarding refugees’ rights.
 Krogstad, Jens Manuel. “Key Facts about Refugees to the U.S.” Pew Research Center, 7 Oct. 2019, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/10/07/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/.
 Lal, Ruchi. “Social and Economic Rights of Refugees under International Legal Framework: An Appraisal.” SpringerLink, Springer India, 24 June 2019, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40901-019-00104-w.
 Millbank, Adrienne Millbank. “The Problem with the 1951 Refugee Convention.” Parliament of Australia, 5 Sept. 2000, www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0001/01RP05.
 Kaplan, Ida. “Effects of Trauma and the Refugee Experience on Psychological Assessment Processes and Interpretation.” Australian Psychological Society, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 2 Feb. 2011, aps.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00050060802575715.
 T.|Petsod, Tyler, and Daranee. “Newcomers in the American Workplace: Improving Employment Outcomes for Low-Wage Immigrants and Refugees.” ERIC, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, P.O. Box 1100, Sebastopol, CA 95473-1100 ($13). Tel: 707-795-2705; Fax: 707-581-1716; Web Site: Htp://Www.gcir.org., 30 Nov. 2002, eric.ed.gov/?id=ED482531.
 Buiano, Madeline, et al. “Data Defies Trump’s Claims That Refugees and Asylees Burden Taxpayers.” Center for Public Integrity, publicintegrity.org/business/immigration/data-defies-trump-claims-that-refugees-and-asylees-are-a-taxpayer-burden/.