A Canadian initiative funded by billionaires George Soros and Frank Giustra has prepared the way for President Biden’s proposed “public-private partnerships” that will play a key role in delivering on the surge in refugee admissions to the United States promised by the Biden administration in FY 2021 and FY 2022.
The Ottawa based Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI), whose mission is “to assist and inspire countries around the world to open new pathways for refugee protection,” was founded in 2016 by billionaire George Soros, who pledged $500 million through his Open Society Foundations to help refugees around the world, the Government of Canada, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Canadian billion Frank Giustra, through The Giustra Foundation (involved previously in controversial donations to the Clinton Foundation) and retired American investment manager Ed Shapiro, through his Shapiro Foundation, subsequently joined the initiative.
The GRSI’s web site says it accomplishes its mission “by sharing Canada’s history, experience, and leadership in private sponsorship and by supporting the creation of new programs that countries design to meet their unique needs.”
Through our work with local organizers, we aim to:
- increase and improve global refugee resettlement by engaging private citizens, communities, and businesses in resettlement efforts;
- strengthen local host communities that come together to welcome newcomers; and
- improve the narrative about refugees and other newcomers.
More than four years after GRSI’s founding, President Biden is giving the billionaires who funded it–and others in America– an opportunity to use the community sponsorship model to resettle refugees in the United States through “public-private sponsorships.”
President Biden signed an executive order on February 4 whose ostensible purpose is to shore up the withered refugee resettlement bureaucracy so that it will be prepared to handle the 125,000 refugee ceiling for FY 2022 (beginning October 1, 2021) he intends to declare in his September 2021 determination letter to Congress. Tucked away in that executive order is a provision that opens the way for such private funding:
Sec. 4. Steps to Improve the Efficacy, Integrity, Security, and Transparency of USRAP.
(k) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, deliver a plan to the President, through the APNSA [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs], to enhance the capacity of USRAP [the US Refugee Admissions Program] to welcome refugees by expanding the use of community sponsorship and co-sponsorship models by refugee resettlement agencies, and by entering into new public-private partnerships.
Hours after it was signed by President Biden on February 4, Jennifer Bond, the University of Ottawa law professor who chairs the GRSI, tweeted the new Executive Order “is an opportunity to re-build the global system and to empower millions of Americans to welcome their new neighbours.” In a follow up tweet the next day, she sent out “Huge congrats to all friends & allies who have worked so hard for this moment.”
New EO gives US depts 120 days to deliver plan for US #communitysponsorship system. Huge congrats to all friends & allies who have worked so hard for this moment. And especially to sponsors + newcomers who have inspired us to dream big. It doesn’t get bigger than this. https://t.co/8gbLKJiwPS
— Jennifer Bond (@bondjk) February 5, 2021
The next day, the GSRI sent out this tweet:
As the US looks to increase refugee resettlement, the GRSI welcomes its announcement to explore new ways to engage community welcome through #communitysponsorship programs.
We look forward to seeing more Americans welcome refugee newcomers as neighbors!https://t.co/ieHG5wqH1T
— Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (@theGRSI) February 5, 2021
The GRSI appears to be prepared to do more than just celebrate the Biden administration’s plan to increase refugee resettlement through public-private partnership. At least one of its partner organizations, The Shapiro Foundation, has already paid for the resettlement of more than 1,100 refugees in Canada during 2018 and 2019 by funding local community sponsors of refugees, as its website explains:
Our thesis was that the financial burden on sponsor groups was severely limiting participation, and financial capacity should not be a barrier to sponsorship. Working closely with our partners at The Refugee Hub at U Ottawa, the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), UNHCR, The Giustra Foundation, and Jewish Family Service of Ottawa, we created and funded a program (BVOR Fund) which would provide qualified sponsors with the funding they needed to be matched with a refugee family for resettlement. The program was a tremendous success, and with several of our philanthropic partners joining us, the result was the resettlement of 668 refugees in 2018. After being renewed in 2019, another 517 were matched. We are currently working with IRCC and other partners to leverage our experience and implement another version of the program for 2020 (and beyond).
Overall, the Shapiro Foundation spent about $20 million on refugee resettlement projects in 2018 and 2019:
Across the six categories, as well as our additional work outside of the refugee space, since the founding of The Shapiro Foundation (along with our family’s Donor Advised Fund), we have invested over $50 million with our partners. In each of 2018 and 2019, we funded more than $10 million/year and expect that amount to grow as we continue to gain expertise in driving impact with existing and new partners around the world.
In September 2020, perhaps in anticipation of a Biden presidential victory, the GRSI concept of community sponsorship for refugees came to the United States when two of its sponsors, The Shapiro Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, were joined by G. Barry Landrie, and Laurie T. Franz to form the Community Sponsorship Catalyst Fund,, “a new fund to help organizations across the United States develop, implement, and enhance community sponsorship programs.”
Community sponsorship is a significant commitment, but it also has proven to be an extremely rewarding one that often builds powerful bonds between sponsor groups and the refugees they welcome. The current moment presents a critical opportunity to reimagine resettlement and lay the groundwork for a future, reinvigorated system built on community participation.
Through the Community Sponsorship Catalyst Fund, a successful applicant may receive a grant of up to $50,000 per year, for up to two years, to support the creation or enhancement of a community sponsorship program. Local resettlement agencies and other local community-based organizations supporting the resettlement and integration of forcibly displaced populations are encouraged to apply. The proposed projects are expected to begin in January 2021.
While the focus of this initiative is on supporting local community sponsorship efforts, the Fund may also support national-level programming, where it helps facilitate local implementation.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has the responsibility to write up the rules for the refugee “public-private partnerships” specified in the new Executive Order, has long been an advocate for refugee admissions in the United States. In 2015, while Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration, he expressed those views in a video with a character from Sesame Street, the childrens’s television program:
A video has resurfaced in which Antony Blinken, a long-time adviser to Joe Biden and a Washington diplomat tipped to become US Secretary of State, appeared on Sesame Street.
Mr Blinken appeared on the programme as deputy Secretary of State to former president Barack Obama, to discuss the role of the United Nations and why Americans should welcome refugees.
Social media users shared a video of Mr Blinken’s Sesame Street appearance ahead of a scheduled announcement on Tuesday by president-elect Biden on who will take top positions in his administration.
The 58-year-old, who was expected to be named as Mr Biden’s appointment for Secretary of State, said on Sesame Street at the time that refugees are “just like you and me”.
You can watch that video here:
On the evening of February 4, shortly after President Biden signed the Executive Order, Secretary Blinken issued a statement, which read in part:
Over the coming months and years, we will rebuild and expand the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and other humanitarian programs so they reflect our values as a nation and are commensurate with global need, consistent with our domestic laws and international obligations, as well as our fundamental responsibility for the safety and security of the American people.
This Order will spur innovation and draw on technological expertise to enhance the effectiveness of security vetting and fraud detection, streamline application processing, and strengthen data-driven decision-making. The concrete steps in the Order will also improve senior-level engagement and coordination, and fill significant staffing gaps in essential positions responsible for the refugee admissions process and other humanitarian programs. The United States will address processing backlogs and pursue security vetting processes that are effective, fair, and efficient, consistent with the humanitarian goals of our programs as well as the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.
The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program would not be where it is today if not for the millions of Americans in local communities across the country who have so generously welcomed refugees from around the world. Going forward, a key part of our collective effort will be the creation of broader linkages with community and private sponsorship programs that will strengthen the program. This approach will complement the traditional system of working with our network of domestic resettlement agencies to welcome and place new refugees. The State Department will continue its longstanding track record of meeting, consulting, and communicating regularly with state and local authorities to plan and coordinate refugee resettlement. (emphasis added).
On February 5, one day after the president signed the executive order on refugees, members of the Biden administration headed to Congress and indicated they wanted the refugee admission surge to begin immediately, by invoking “emergency” powers to lift the 15,000 refugee admission ceiling former President Trump established for FY 2021 to 62, 500, as Breitbart News reported:
President Biden’s proposal to increase the FY 2021 refugee resettlement ceiling to 62,500, first reported by CNN on Friday, twists and contorts the Refugee Act of 1980, which authorizes the president to set the annual refugee resettlement ceiling for each fiscal year in a letter sent to Congress the month before the fiscal year begins.
The law also allows the president to increase previously established annual refugee resettlement ceilings under “emergency” circumstances after consulting with Congress. Such authority has been rarely used during the four decades the Refugee Admissions Program has been in operation.
The relevant section of the U.S. Code Annotated (Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter II, Part I, § 1157) reads as follows:
If the President determines, after appropriate consultation, that (1) an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists, (2) the admission of certain refugees in response to the emergency refugee situation is justified by grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest, and (3) the admission to the United States of these refugees cannot be accomplished under subsection (a), the President may fix a number of refugees to be admitted to the United States during the succeeding period (not to exceed twelve months) in response to the emergency refugee situation and such admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after the appropriate consultation provided under this subsection.
Should the Biden administration persuade Congress that an emergency refugee situation as defined under the law exists and the FY 2021 refugee ceiling is raised to 62,500, “public-private partnerships” to resettle refugees in the United States could begin to operate as soon as Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers the plan the Executive Order requires of him to the APNSA (National Security Advisor), 43-year-old Jake Sullivan, which will be by the first week of June at the latest.