The plot thickens. On October 22, 2008, the U.S State Department closed down applications for the priority 3 refugee reunification program.
This program allowed refugees to apply for asylum if one family member was already a legal U.S. resident.
Why did George Bush’s State stop the program? Because DNA testing of African migrant — primarily Somali and Ethiopian — had determined that over 80% of applicants were fraudulently claiming family relationships.
From The Seattle Times: The suspended pilot program, known as Priority 3, allows foreign – almost all of them African – family members of legal U.S. residents to join relatives here.
With little fanfare, the program was halted in March 2008 after DNA testing on applicants in Africa found that up to 87 percent of their familial claims were fraudulent.
The experimental program was conducted in late 2007 and early 2008 on about 3,000 people mostly from Somalia, Ethiopia and Liberia who claimed blood relationships with each other and wanted to be reunited with a family member who had been resettled as a refugee in the U.S.
DNA testing was not done on the alleged relatives in the United States. The State Department said it targeted Africans abroad only for genetic testing because they make up 95 percent of applicants to the program. The testing started, officials said, only after suspicions of fraud arose in applications originating among refugees in Kenya.
“We were … only able to confirm all claimed biological relationships in fewer than 20 percent of cases,” the State Department said in a fact sheet. “In the remaining cases, at least one negative result was identified or the individuals refused to be tested.”
The fact sheet was originally released last year in the waning weeks of the Bush administration but was reissued shortly after President Barack Obama took office.
The idea of such testing on refugees came into the spotlight again this week when British authorities said they were using genetic tests on some African asylum-seekers in an effort to catch those who are lying about their nationality. That move has drawn criticism from scientists and provoked outrage from rights groups.
As the U.S. review winds down, questions were raised about what to do with the estimated 36,000 African refugees who arrived in the United States under the resettlement between 2003 and its suspension.
Fraud in the Refugee Family Reunification (Priority Three) Program
Q: What is this program?
A: The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) is responsible for coordinating and managing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). A critical part of this responsibility is determining which individuals or groups from among the millions of refugees worldwide will be able to apply for refugee resettlement in the United States.
There are currently three priorities or categories of cases that have access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Priority One and Two applicants are granted access to the program through an individual referral by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy or qualified NGO, or by membership in a group of cases designated as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement. Priority Three, or P-3, refers to individual cases from eligible nationalities who are granted access for purposes of family reunification with certain legal residents in the United States.
Qualifying for access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is only the first step in the process, however. Officials of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conduct an interview with all refugee applicants regardless of priority, to determine if the individual is a refugee under U.S. law, is not firmly resettled in another country and is otherwise admissible to the United States.
Access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program based on family ties has been available to various nationalities since the 1980s. In recent years, more than 95% of the applications to the P-3 program have been African – primarily Somalis, Ethiopians and Liberians.
Q: Why did the US decide to conduct DNA testing of some nationality groups applying for resettlement in the US?
A: PRM and DHS/USCIS jointly decided to test a sample of refugee cases due to reported fraud in the P-3 program, particularly in Kenya.
This pilot program later expanded to test applicants in other parts of Africa. (See questions and answers below.)
Q: What rate of fraud did you discover?
A: The rate of fraud varied among nationalities and from country to country, and is difficult to establish definitively as many individuals refused to agree to DNA testing.
We were, however, only able to confirm all claimed biological relationships in fewer than 20% of cases (family units). In the remaining cases, at least one negative result (fraudulent relationship) was identified, or the individuals refused to be tested.
Q: Which refugees are being tested? From which countries?
A: We initially tested a sample of some 500 refugees (primarily Somali and Ethiopian) in Nairobi, Kenya under consideration for U.S. resettlement through the P-3 program. After that sample suggested high rates of fraud, we expanded testing to Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Cote d’Ivoire. Most of the approximately 3,000 refugees tested are from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Liberia, as these nationalities make up the vast majority of P-3 cases.
It is important to note that the initial DNA testing was limited to members of families applying for the P-3 program, and not between the applicants and the anchor relative in the United States.