The Refugee Act of 1980 provides state and local officials with a robust role in determining where refugees are resettled. The Act states, for example, that policies and strategies for the placement and resettlement of refugees in the United States must be developed in consultation with representatives of state and local governments. Likewise, the Act requires federal actors to consult regularly with state and local governments about the intended distribution of refugees prior to their placement within the state. Involving state and local officials in the resettlement process makes sense. After all, they are best situated to understand the local factors and conditions that greatly affect the lives of refugees. This Note demonstrates, however, that despite Congress’s intent, federal actors monopolize refugee placement decisions. And because states and localities have little input in the process, they are often woefully unprepared to absorb refugees into their communities. This benefits neither the refugees nor the communities in which they are placed.
This Note proposes giving local communities a more meaningful role in the refugee placement process: a right to refuse refugees. To persuade local communities to resettle refugees, the federal government would purchase the cooperation of those communities with federal funds under Congress’s spending power. Much like it does in other cooperative federalism programs, the federal government would bargain with individual localities. This Note demonstrates that such bargaining would match refugee groups with communities ready—and resourced—to welcome them. Moreover, it ensures that localities have sufficient funds to provide for the refugees’ needs.