Remembering Rachel Corrie on the anniversary of her death



Dear Friend,

On this day 13 years ago, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by Israeli soldiers driving a military bulldozer. She was trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home. According to numerous witnesses and photographic documentation, she was killed intentionally.

Representative Brian Baird from Washington State introduced a resolution in Congress calling on the federal government to “undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation” into Rachel’s death. The bill was co-sponsored by 77 representatives, but Congress took no action. 

The Corrie family then filed a lawsuit against Caterpillar Inc in 2005, alleging that Caterpillar supplied Israelis with bulldozers even though they knew they were being used to commit war crimes. The lawsuit was dismissed.

The Corrie family’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was also dismissed. The court acknowledged that the U.S. government paid for the bulldozer that killed Rachel, but said that they didn’t have the jurisdiction to rule on the “political question” of U.S. military aid to Israel. 

In 2010, the Corrie family filed a lawsuit in Israel against the Israeli Defense Forces. Israeli officials prevented the physician who had examined Rachel’s wounds from testifying in the case. The court ruled that Rachel was responsible for her own death. In 2014, the Corrie family’s appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel, and the IDF was absolved of any wrongdoing.

Keep Rachel’s message alive by sharing her story with your community. We have cards, a booklet of Rachel’s letters, and posters available for download and order.


U.S. taxpayers send Israel over $3 billion a year in military aid with virtually no strings attached, and now the prime minister of Israel wants $5 billion a year.

The majority of Americans oppose taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but virtually all Democratic and Republican members of Congress continue to supply Israel with more and more weapons each year (Palestinians do not receive military aid).

American taxpayer dollars have enabled Israel to continue its decades-long illegal occupation of Palestinian land and deny Palestinians basic legal and human rights. With our money, Israeli forces have killed over 9,200 Palestinians as well as numerous international journalists and peace activists since 2000.

We are driving the violence in this region, and we must stop it.

This weekend, AIPAC kicks off its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump scheduled to give speeches. We hope you will join us this Sunday at noon at the White House to protest AIPAC’s influence on American politics and support Palestinian human rights. Your voice is urgently needed!

As always, thank for your commitment to peace, justice, and equality for all people.

The If Americans Knew team

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Quick Links

Order or download Rachel Corrie cards, letters, and posters on our site

Protest AIPAC in DC on March 20th! Join this rally spearheaded by Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition.

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Sign: End orca captivity once and for all


Congress: Pass the ORCA Act and End Killer Whales in Captivity


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Nice try, SeaWorld.

The corporation grabbed headlines around the world this week with the news that it would end its killer whale performances. Beneath the headlines, however, very little has changed. Sign my Care2 petition to ask Congress to take action to end the barbaric practice of keeping killer whales in captivity.

The full story is that in an effort to turn around the 17% decline in attendance at their San Diego park, SeaWorld will end their theatrical performances by 2017, and instead work to present the animals in a more natural setting. This announcement does not affect their two other U.S. parks.

Unfortunately, it seems like that setting won’t be any larger than their current, cramped conditions. The entertainment corporation also announced they were halting their plans to significantly increase the size of their killer whale tanks.

This news certainly won’t change the reality that orcas shouldn’t be in captivity. These highly social animals spend their time in the wild traveling in family pods over 100 miles a day to hunt schools of salmon and other prey together. Orcas cannot thrive in lonely, captive conditions – even if the bathtub is designed to look more natural.

A Congressman from California is introducing the ORCA Act, a bill to phase out the practice of keeping killer whales in captivity, ending captive breeding and the import and export of these magnificent animals. Sign my petition and urge your member of Congress to support the legislation today!

Thanks for taking action!


Aaron V.

The Care2 Petitions Team


TRANSCRIPT: Foreign Press Center Briefing with Anne Richard, Assitant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration



TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2015, 9:30 A.M. EDT


MODERATOR:  Hello.  So yeah, we’ll get started.  I know several of you have been here for a few minutes, but we’re really pleased to have Assistant Secretary Richard here at such a time as this, and this is such a topical issue and she comes with a lot of insight specifically on what the U.S. is doing.  So with that brief intro, the assistant secretary will make some comments, and then we’ll open it up for questions, for dialogue, and conversation.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  So as my colleague says, I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, and I’ve been doing the job for about three and a half years.  And sometimes I facetiously say I have produced more refugees on my watch than any of my predecessors, which is not a good thing.  But the interest in refugees from the media and the public has grown in recent days, and I think that the photo that went viral of the poor Syrian child who drowned on the beach accounts for some of this, and the fact that an existing refugee situation that has been very much a feature of the countries that neighbor Syria has now expanded, so that it’s a very visible stream of people coming to Europe. 

But for those of us who work on migration and refugee issues, their plight is nothing new; and in fact, it’s not the only place in the world where we see large numbers of refugees and migrants.  And at the State Department, we pride ourselves on being the top humanitarian donor to the UN and the best NGOs for humanitarian operations in response to these conflict situations, these very complex situations. 

And we also resettle refugees in the United States.  That’s part of my bureau’s responsibilities is to run a program to bring – to work with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, with some of – a very good network of nongovernmental organizations, including a network across the United States.  And at the end of this fiscal year, which is imminent – September 30th is the end of our fiscal year – we will have brought 70,000 refugees to the United States for the third year in a row. 

And you will have heard that the Secretary of State in Berlin – was it just the weekend before last? – announced that we will increase those numbers.  So the fiscal year that starts October 1st, we’ll bring 85,000 refugees, and then the following year we intend to bring 100,000 refugees.

Now, these numbers are refugees from all around the world.  The top places that we bring refugees from is Iraq, Burma, and Somalia.  And – but the number of nationalities in our program is quite high; it’s like 60 different nationalities but smaller numbers of the rest.  And we also encourage other countries to do this as well.  And our outreach to other countries about that is picking up as we see world leaders and witnessing what’s happening in Europe.  As the Syria crisis goes from being a country in crisis to a region in crisis to now a global situation, we see that other countries too are trying to figure out what role they can play in trying to help the refugees.

In a situation like we see in Europe, we are providing assistance through UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to ensure that there is humane treatment of the migrants, humane techniques of border management, so that – and but – and this is mostly at the periphery of Europe.  These are programs that are being carried in Macedonia, in Serbia, in Greece.  But obviously, the kind of relationships we have with Germany, France, Great Britain – we’re not going to assume that they don’t know the first thing about border management.  They obviously have a lot of capable people.  What we see there is that we need to work in partnership with them and support them in ways that they believe are helpful.

In looking at the roots of what’s happening in Europe, we know that a large number of the migrants are Syrians; and so if you hear my boss, Secretary Kerry, talk about the European situation, he will quickly pivot to talk about Syria, which I think is right.  And so we have been working now for years to support programs in – here, I’ll move this – in Lebanon, in Jordan, to help UNHCR get – to facilitate the Turkish Government’s refugee response, which has been quite strong.  But also there were Syrians who fled to northern Iraq, and then since then there has been major displacement inside Iraq, so some of the people in the flow to Europe are Iraqis.  We are very interested in making sure that we roll back ISIL in Iraq, but my role as the humanitarian office in the State Department is to try to get those displaced people home again inside Iraq.  And then some of the Syrians have gone as far afield as Egypt.

So in all of these places, we are supporting UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and UNRWA, the UN Relief Works Agency that works with the Palestinian refugees, to try to bring help, bring the basics – food, medical care, water and sanitation – but also protection, a sense that people will not be abused or exploited, which is unfortunately one ugly aspect of these big movements of people. 

We’ve seen the growth of highly organized smuggling networks.  There is a great deal of agreement among world leaders that we have to crack down on smuggling and trafficking networks, but of course, that agreement has to be translated into taking steps on the ground.  And so I look to colleagues who work on law enforcement, who work on tracking these groups, to actually do the action against them, but I do care about the people who get trapped and caught up in these smuggling networks. 

Specifically on the Syria crisis, since the start of the crisis, the U.S. has provided over $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance.  We say that’s more than any other single donor, although, of course, you have to realize that Turkey has done quite a bit in its own country.  So we’re not saying more than anyone else related to the crisis, but certainly in terms of the traditional donors we have a leading spot.  And then also we recently provided additional assistance to the Iraq situation, so that’s $478 million.

Last May, I was in Southeast Asia meeting with ASEAN countries in Bangladesh to talk about the situation there – a mixed flow of economic migrants from Bangladesh but also refugees from Burma who had been exploited and taken advantage of and terrible things had happened to them.  Again, sort of the same conversations about how do we save lives, first and foremost; how do we crack down on the smugglers and the criminal networks and the traffickers; and then how do we ensure that whether people are economic migrants or bona fide refugees, that they get treated in a humane manner, that they are treated as we’d want to be treated – treated well?

We’re very concerned that the UN appeals for humanitarian aid across the board for all crises are so underfunded.  The U.S. is fortunate that we have gotten support from our Congress for this humanitarian budget, but we’re very concerned that other governments, even if they’re providing more assistance than they have in the past, they’re not keeping pace with this series of serious crises around the world.  And so we see how UN humanitarian agencies are really grappling with the problem of what to do about this.  Do they do as the World Food Program has done, which is cut back on rations and target truly the most vulnerable?  But that still leaves a lot of people who weren’t getting help and felt that they needed the help out now, and that’s very concerning. 

Our bureau is the top funder of the UN High Commission for Refugees.  Our counterparts at the U.S. Agency for International Development are the top funders of the World Food Program.  So the U.S. takes pride in these programs that help displaced people, but we are very alarmed that the rest of the world seems to not be able to marshal the budgets to respond.

So what are the solutions?  Well, the real solution, of course, is that peace breaks out all over the world and everyone who works on these issues knows that the truly right number of refugees is zero, that people don’t have to leave their homes, that they can go home again; but until that happens, what we would like to see is more contributions from other governments.  We’re very happy that some of the Gulf countries are stepping forward in recent days, and it seemed to be more prominent this year at the UN General Assembly in attending meetings about these humanitarian issues and talking about them, and so that is most welcome.  And my hope for the Gulf countries is that they become sort of routine donors, every – on an annual basis to these UN agencies, because in the past, while Gulf countries can be quite involved in charitable giving, they often do it sort of as a one-off, unique giving to a different cause every year.  And so we would like them to truly be part of the sort of roundtable of donors that do this year in and year out.

We also would like to see more private sector involvement, and I think this may be happening, that seeing just this past week with Mark Zuckerberg talking about the internet for refugees, and I just came from this morning a – the Global Business Coalition for Education.  And they listened to the Lebanese education minister and the Jordanian minister of planning and industry, and they listened to the Turkish head of their emergency response group.  So this is different and very much needed, and also to get the public to do more, as the President actually is interested in having happen.

So more foundation, private giving; more public involvement, businesses involved; more governments that haven’t been involved before would be most welcome.  And I think also we need to break down the silos between the humanitarian relief world and the development assistance world.  And this is something that a lot of senior people agree on, but it’s very hard to move the bureaucracies.  Within my own government but also at the UN and other governments, money tends to flow in silos.  The relief humanitarian world operated in conflict zones; the development experts would try to get in and help countries that were poor, and clearly, this kind of a significant crisis, a very complex crisis like we’re seeing right now, is – requires sort of an all-hands-on-deck.  It requires the energies of all of us if we’re going to make any kind of headway. 

So why don’t I stop there and listen to your questions.

MODERATOR:  Any questions from the table?

QUESTION:  Well, I’d like to hear a little bit more about what the U.S. is hoping to do more in Syria.  There have been some calls that the U.S. isn’t doing enough.  I know there’s a lot of talk that the U.S. —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Who said that?  Just kidding.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  A lot of talk that the U.S. is the largest humanitarian – single humanitarian donor.  But could we be taking in more refugees?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Well, the President has said – let me give you the numbers so you know.  By the end of this year, so in a couple days, we’ll have brought 1,700 refugees from Syria to the United States.  And then next year our goal is 10,000, and the year after that we really want a steep ramp-up.  And the reason we can’t bring hundreds of thousands overnight is because we have a very slow and deliberate process that does several things.  It makes sure that the people who are – have applied are bona fide refugees; they’re fleeing persecution or war, and their case holds up to scrutiny.  Then we have to make sure that we’re not bringing people who are – have bad intentions. 

And we have brought 3 million – more than 3 million refugees to the United States since the Vietnam era, since the mid-1970s, and most of those people have been law-abiding people who have actually contributed more to the United States than they have taken from it.  I mean, they’re taxpayers.  They’re hard-working.  They’re incredibly motivated.  Many of them, after five years, take the U.S. citizenship exam and become American citizens.  So most of them end up staying in the United States and are committed to their adopted country.

But we have had instances of people slipping through – not many, but a handful of instances where people have planned to do something, send weaponry and whatnot back to their home countries.  So what we have done since that is we have tightened our security process, and one of the things that we screen for is to make sure we screen out people who are lying to us, people who are criminals, or people who are would-be terrorists.  And like I say, the odds of a refugee falling into that category are slim, but I am charged by the members of Congress and by members of our national security community to ensure that our process includes this screening.  So that’s partly what slows down our process of bringing refugees to the United States. 

But I think that we don’t have to prove to anyone that we’re a friendly – a country that’s friendly to refugees, given that we’ve taken so many over the years.  So I suspect that our numbers that we’re bringing from Syria will climb in the next few years.

QUESTION:  Hi.  My name is Daisuke Nakai with Asahi Shimbun.  Thank you very much for taking the time.  For a sort of follow-up, on the phone conference you did the other day, I think you mentioned that the 70,000 resettlement number is more than other – all the other countries —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  All other countries combined.  That’s right.

QUESTION:  At the same time —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  The UNHCR resettles about 100,000 per year, so that’s 70 percent.

QUESTION:  At the same time, there’s many, many more people showing up in Europe.  And as you mentioned, it’s a slow and deliberate process, but I think there’s also more focus on what can be done right now to alleviate what is happening.  And is there anything that the U.S. can do or to – right now?  And also, how long does it take to resettle a person?  You said slow and deliberate but —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Eighteen to twenty-four months.  And we’re looking to see if we can accelerate that without cutting corners on security.  And so we’re going to take a very cool-eyed look at that whole process, and we have to because we’re under so much pressure from senior leadership in the State Department and in the White House to do more. 

Now, I mentioned that the Secretary was in Berlin and had announced these new targets for our refugee resettlement program.  The next day we announced more money for – it was $419 million for aid to the Syria – to respond to the Syria crisis.  And that’s where we got to $4.5 billion, so that’s only a week old – that figure.  So we are determined to support those countries that have been bearing the brunt of the refugee situation. 

The other thing we’re going to do is to continue to try to get as much aid as possible inside Syria because there are so many displaced people inside Syria – Syrians who were living, minding their own business, innocent civilians who then were bombed out of their own homes or fled their own homes because of the conflict.  And amazingly, they have tried to remain inside Syria.  So that’s 7.6 million people who are trying to stay in their own home country and with a little bit of help might be able to do that.  So it’s very hard to deliver aid inside Syria.  We – once again, we support those organizations that are trying to get the aid in through whatever channels work, to whatever parts of Syria.

I mean, aid gets to all of the governorates of Syria, but all of the parties to the conflict – to a one, they all manage to harass and endanger and threaten aid workers and aid deliveries.  And so it’s a truly difficult place to operate.  I’ve been to all the neighboring countries.  I haven’t been to Syria since 2008, so I – this is – but I ask every single person who’s been inside to – that I meet, to tell me how it’s going, do they see the aid showing up, are they getting through the roadblocks.  And they are, but it’s just really difficult.

QUESTION:  During the ’70s – so the high mark was, what, 50,000 people per year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  No, higher.  I don’t have the numbers with me.  We can get them to you, but during the Vietnam era, we brought like 150,000 Vietnamese, I believe, in one year.  I have the number 200,000 in my head – maybe that was a couple years, or something.  But it was really quite substantial.  But of course, that was pre-9/11.  And so at that time, for example, we would bring Vietnamese to Guam to process them.  Or in the ’90s, we flew people from Kosovo to Fort Dix, New Jersey.  We brought Iraqis into New Jersey.  So people who are advocates on behalf of refugees, like I used to be – so my friends – will call me and say “Anne, why aren’t you flying in hundreds of thousands of people like we did in the old days?”  And I said, “Well, we can’t.  It’s post-September 11th and we must take every possible step to ensure that we have as tight as humanly possible a vetting system.”

So we will try to accelerate that, but I can’t say, “Oh, security doesn’t matter.”  It really matters to many Americans.

QUESTION:  So you can’t see the numbers approaching what they did in the ’70s or ’80s in the near future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Yeah, well, not under our current system in the short term.  I think we can – what I’m convinced about is that the U.S. can be a home to that many refugees because I’ve seen us – think about it: in the last three years we’ll have brought 210,000 refugees to the United States.  I know we can receive and host and appreciate many more.  That kind of shocked some Americans, because I think they don’t know a lot about the program and they haven’t noticed that the neighbors down the street are actually people from – refugees. 

I was in Spartanburg, South Carolina and they just weren’t sure that it would – the program would work, not realizing that the biggest glass salesman – Kapasi Glassware – was a refugee.  (Laughter.)  So he was living amongst them for years, and so I think part of it is realizing that refugees are not a horde of scary-looking men headed your way.  They are families with hardworking parents, caring grandparents, adorable children who will soak up the English language in school like this, and that – they will actually strengthen this country, as they have in the past – more diversity, more vitality, more energy.  So I won’t give you my whole patriotic speech on this.  (Laughter.)  I’ll curb myself at that moment.

QUESTION:  Vasco De Jesus.  Vasco Press Brazil.  I’m curious to know about the processing centers, the mechanism.  Because you mentioned that it takes from 18-24 months for refugees to be resettled here.  And —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Right.  So would you like me to walk through the process a little bit?

QUESTION:  I’m just curious because I was in Central America during the Central American crisis in the early ’80s.  We had a Mariel boatlift and –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Mm-hmm.  Cubans coming to the United States?  Right.

QUESTION:  Cubans.  Yes.  But then one of the processing centers became Costa Rica.  And then I was in Costa Rica and all of a sudden 2,000 and 2,500 Cubans arrived in the city and the city was not prepared.  And psychopaths and hardened criminals —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Yeah, because they emptied the prisons, too, yeah.

QUESTION:  And the – Costa Rica used to be a paradise then.  And then all of a sudden became scary place overnight and then we were working on processing them, and it was very, very difficult thing.  So where does —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  So we need to get you to Hungary on the next plane.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  Oh – so the American processing is in —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  No, no, no.  I was teasing.  I was saying you’re the experienced person.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.  All right.  (Laughter.) 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  We need to get you to Europe.

QUESTION:  Sorry.  So —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  So we have resettlement support centers around the world in places where there are high concentrations of refugees.  And several are run by the International Organization for Migration and some are run by other not-for-profits who have competed to have that job.  And so for example, we have them in Istanbul and Amman and Nairobi, in Southeast Asia, I believe it used to be in Bangkok – I think it’s Malaysia right now.  And what we do is – there’s one in Vienna that was working with people coming out of the former Soviet Union and also from Iran. 

So these organizations take a referral from UNHCR, from the UN refugee agency, and then puts together a case, the story of that refugee family or that refugee individual.  And then the case – they put together all of the material.  Sometimes refugees don’t have any documentation because they fled horrible things.  But usually, especially in the Middle East, people will have some kind of identity card or family ration booklet or something.  And so they will try to tell the story.  That’s presented then to a Department of Homeland Security interviewer. 

And one of the ways – there’s a couple ways we can bring more refugees.  One is we have – if we fund UNHCR to do more referrals, because that part of UNHCR could be strengthened.  One is if we get more Department of Homeland Security interviewers out more frequently, because they travel out every few months, say.  And in the Middle East, some of the places they’re going are somewhat dangerous or can be dangerous, can go through periods of uncertain security.  And in Africa, the trick is the logistics of getting out to the places where the refugees are because sometimes they’re – like in the Kakuma Camp, for example, in Kenya – you – that’s not in Nairobi; you’ve got to get out to the camp.

So we have to invest in our own abilities to have more people go and do that.  And then in our budget we have to determine the trade-offs between providing assistance overseas for refugees in their countries of first asylum versus strengthening this program to bring refugees here.  I think we can do both, and I think we can get support from the Congress to do both, and I know my bosses want us to do both.  So – but like I say, our fiscal year’s about to start.  We’re going to probably be under a continuing resolution, which means that we don’t know what our budget is.  But I’m optimistic on this.

QUESTION:  Quick tangent.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Does the 70,000 number you said include Cubans under the wet foot/dry foot?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Yeah.  We do include Cubans under that, but I don’t have the numbers for you with me today.  But we can get you more on that.  That’s a very smart question.

QUESTION:  Just a question on where the Syrian refugees are primarily, I guess, clumped in the U.S. once they have been resettled.  And I guess some communities in the U.S. would say that they don’t want refugees.  What do you say to them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  That’s a very important question.  I was just thinking about the Cubans.  There’s two ways Cubans get to the U.S.  One is that we have a program for Cubans to apply inside Cuba.  It’s very rare for us to have programs where people can apply inside the country.  And – we do it in Iraq, for example, for people who’ve worked with U.S. troops and things like that, or worked with the media.  And then in Cuba they can apply and come.  So they’re in the program.  Cubans who make their own way to the United States and then seek asylum, they don’t get resettled under this program.  But they do get benefits down the line that the Health and Human Services Department provides. 

Your question was very important.  So would you say it one more time, and then —

QUESTION:  So the first question was:  Where in the U.S. are the communities of Syrian refugees?


QUESTION:  And then —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  So if I showed you a map, you would see that there are over 180 places, cities and towns across the U.S., where refugees are resettled.  And then within that, some of them have more than one organization working.  So in terms of sort of the storefront or the visibility, it’s more like 300 and – more than 300.  And it’s east coast, west coast – Texas is very big; the Midwest is big in terms of the Twin Cities.  Now, we resettle refugees all across the U.S., and we don’t pick a city to be the new capital of – Little Damascus or something.  Instead, we believe most parts of the United States can be a – offer a home to refugees.  Sometimes refugees through their own networks will hear that a particular city has got jobs, or has got something on offer that is particularly useful. 

In Spartanburg, South Carolina, where I was, they have a lot of Ukrainian churches.  So that is a – something that might appeal to refugees who are fleeing the current conflict in Ukraine.  So you’ll see secondary migration.  So we’ve seen concentrations, then, of people from the Middle East in the Detroit, Dearborn area.  There’s a very strong Chaldean, which is a type of Christian community from Iraq, but if you’re from anywhere in the Middle East, maybe you’d want to use their supermarkets, because you get a taste of home.  (Laughter.)  And then also I’ve been to – for example, in San Diego there also are Chaldeans there, but then I’ve been to – I had lunch once in a restaurant in a part of town called Little Mogadishu.  And as an American, I had no idea there was a Little Mogadishu in San Diego, California. 

So you will see this sort of secondary migration, which is normal and – but it’s not by design.  It’s by – once people come to the United States, they’re free to move.  They have to stay – if they want the three months of assistance we provide to them for reception and placement in the U.S., they have to stay in one place.  But after that, they’re just like Americans; they can go anywhere.

QUESTION:  And the second question was:  What do you say to communities that do not want refugees in their —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Well, I try to educate them about the program and who the refugees are and what they’re fleeing.  And I find that when people see that there’s a human face on these families, if they see a photograph of the family, if they hear about the family’s story, all of a sudden Americans are very generous.  They’ll open up their hearts.  They’ll say, oh, well, my great-grandfather came from country X, so I would like to help as well.  But when they hear as just sort of refugees, as if it’s just a horde people – a swarm, a threat, a problem – then that sort of gives them the impression that they’re being invaded.  That’s not at all what’s happening here.  It’s families that have had terrible things happen to them, who have somehow miraculously survived, who are very resilient, and would make great residents in this country.

Can we do a time check?  What are my – what are my —

MODERATOR:  You have 10 more minutes.


QUESTION:  Just mentioned Little Mogadishu and also the Twin Cities – I know the FBI has been having a lot of interest in Minneapolis and the Somali population there.  Obviously they weren’t just refugees; there was a number of factors going in there.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  They weren’t the best refugees, you said?

QUESTION:  No, they weren’t just refugees.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Oh, just refugees.  Okay.

QUESTION:  There’s also – and I —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  We don’t have a competition.  We love all our refugees.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  I know.  With the situation in Minneapolis and the Somali population, there has been talk about a lot of people – well, not a lot, but some returning to various organizations or going back to the Middle East.  What are the lessons you think can be brought out of that?  Is there anything that could have been done better or could be done right now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Well, this is a perplexing thing as to why young people find some of these terrorist groups attractive.  And not many do, but a small proportion do, and some are the children of immigrants and refugees and some are homegrown Americans.  So this is a much broader issue than – I don’t think there’s anything that makes – in fact, I know there’s no evidence that refugees are more inclined to radicalization than the general population, either the one they’re coming from or this one in the U.S.  I mean, I think we have to take this very seriously.  I defer to others who are experts on why a teenaged youth, either the children of Somali refugees or the children of my children – who, thankfully, don’t seem to be prone to radicalization just yet in this area – (laughter) – that what sparks that interest and then what feeds that interest, and how do we prevent that from happening.  Those are very important questions. 

But I really think that the refugees we bring to the United States, including the parents of these youth, are people who want to live here; live here in peace.  They’ve sought stability, they’ve sought education for their children, they’ve sought a new, fresh start in life.  And that piece of the program is so, so valuable.  So there are – I think there is an issue there, but I don’t think it’s a significant part of our program.

QUESTION:  The United States obviously – Ilie Fugaru from Mediafax, Romania.  The United States obviously has a great experience in dealing with refugees over the years.  However, Europeans – it appears they just face the problem as big as it is right now with a wave of refugees from Syria and still coming and pouring.  And obviously they don’t have the management and the expertise to deal with this kind of situation, so how – I mean, you mentioned the UNHCR and the international organizations as primary points, first points of referrals and of check for refugees. 

The main worry of population in Europe – and part of the media amplifies this – is that many of these refugees don’t have any IDs, don’t have any way – there’s no way to tell if they’re true refugees or just economic refugees or even terrorists.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Well, we respect the rights of governments to control their borders and to decide who comes across and who doesn’t.  And certainly we do that in the United States.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  So – but there are ways when there’s doubt if someone shows up without documents to do an interview and find out.  “So you say you’re from Somalia; now, can you tell me about your hometown?  And where did you grow up, where did you walk?  And here we have a Somali, so would you please talk to him in your native language.” 

So I think that the – some of the economic migrants in this stream – who, like I say, are entrepreneurial, brave – sometimes these are the most capable people in the society.  This is what the U.S. tradition has been.  But they do not get the same protections as people fleeing persecution and war under refugee conventions.

So there – it is perfectly all right to return those people to their homes under international law, but what we are asking is that countries do a careful job in screening, that they use humane techniques and practices, that they receive people well.  There’s been some wonderful stories coming – I mean, even as Europe grapples with this, there have been some wonderful stories about European citizens just spontaneously helping people going along this route or arriving in Germany.  And that is to be admired, I think; that is to be celebrated.  And we can build on that, those impulses – those humanitarian impulses among ordinary people to try to do a better job on this, I think.

QUESTION:  Okay.  My – I guess my question was if the United States is willing to provide expertise and to provide this kind of support in – to the Europeans in —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD:  Yes, but I don’t think we just parachute in.  I think we sort of have to be invited.  And my sense is that working through these premier international organizations is a very good way to do it.  We’re going to have later today – the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is convening a G7+ meeting to talk about doing more for the UN agencies that help the refugees.  That is a very smart thing to do. 

My point is the U.S. has been, year in and year out, a top funder of those organizations, and so for us that’s not a radical idea; that’s something that we take very seriously, is our responsibility.

MODERATOR:  We’re going to have to end it here, actually.  Thank you so much for your time and attention.  Thank you for your time as well, ma’am.


MODERATOR:  We will offer a transcript as soon as it becomes available.

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