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How the Office of Refugee Resettlement Works

Formed in the 1980s, the Office of Refugee Resettlement works closely with local ethnic and religious organizations.

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After the failed military intervention in Vietnam in 1975, the United States was faced with the task of resettling hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians displaced by the war. Congress formed a Refugee Task Force to help complete the resettling process of 131,000 of refugees in the span of a few months. However, the need for a permanent office to handle the affairs of resettlement led to the formation of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in 1980.

The ORR helps refugees connect with critical resources that assist with legal representation, housing, education, and other tools needed to integrate with American society. 

The United States enacted its first refugee legislation in 1948 when it admitted 250,000 Europeans displaced by World War II. To address the displacement of citizens in Europe resulting from the war, on June 25 of that year, President Harry Truman signed into law the Displaced Persons Act, which authorized the admission of select European refugees as permanent residents of the United States.

Also Read: How Ithaca Became a Haven for Refugees

The law, which the president argued was discriminatory to certain individuals on the basis of religion, included temporary provisions expiring in four years. By 1952, around 400,000 refugees had been admitted to the United States. 

Later legislation was created to admit citizens immigrating from Communist regimes, such as from Cuba in the 1960s and 1980s. 

The ORR now falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has one of the largest federal budgets of any agency and is preoccupied largely with public health, social services and humanitarian disaster response. The department works closely with local ethnic and religious organizations to facilitate the resettlement process.

The Refugee Act of 1980 standardized the resettlement process for all refugees being moved to the United States. Refugees are eligible for federally funded assistance for up to 8 months. 


Also read: I-589: How to Seek Asylum in the United States

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