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Remarks on the Retirement of Terry Rusch


Remarks
Eric P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Terry Rusch Director, Office of Admissions, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Washington, DC
September 29, 2010

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ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARZ: Let me start by noting that despite our regret at Terry’s departure, this is a great event, as it brings together so many people who have been engaged in refugee resettlement – and with Terry – over so many decades.

Terry, I’ve worked with you in one manner or another for more than a third of your 35 years of government service, and I’d like to review some of the highlights of your distinguished service. You returned from your overseas assignments in the former Soviet Union and the Philippines just as the Refugee Act of 1980 was becoming law. Your first domestic assignment at State was in the Human Rights Bureau where you helped develop the Department’s role in the asylum process. Shortly thereafter, you were recruited to work in the new Refugee Programs Bureau, which was launching a process for the systematic monitoring of initial refugee resettlement.

A few years later, you became Director of that office and a few years after that, the Director of the Refugee Admissions Processing office. I was working the House Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee at the time, where my beat included refugees, and it was at that point that I first met you.

In the early 1990’s, RP (the Reception and Placement Program) was reorganized and all admissions activities – overseas processing, cultural orientation and initial domestic resettlement – were housed under one roof, with you at the helm.

During my eight years on President Clinton’s National Security staff we worked together on some critically important humanitarian issues including the Haiti and Cuba crises, Bosnia and Kosovo. I know that you missed some important family events during those years. For instance – and I only recently learned this – you apparently were in the White House situation room on Mothers’ Day dealing with Haiti. You also travelled to Croatia on short notice to set up refugee processing for released Bosnian detainees. And then there were the hundreds of hours spent on conference calls with the Coast Guard and much of the rest of the government, often late at night, dealing with issues of irregular boat migration from Asia.

Through it all, Terry, you have maintained a high level of energy, a sense of humor, and a determination to say what you believe even when you know it is not what your interlocutor – subordinate, colleague, superior, or even Secretary of State or President – might like to hear. That is a valuable trait that smart managers and colleagues have very much welcomed.

I was out of government when the events of September 11 dealt a serious blow to the Refugee Admissions program but I am aware that your efforts led to the re-starting of the program after a hiatus of only seven weeks -- in spite of enormous roadblocks elsewhere in the bureaucracy that could have led to a far longer suspension of admissions activity.

Since my return to government last summer, I’ve been so pleased to see important progress in the Admissions program – the extraordinary development of our partnership with UNHCR, the great working relationship we enjoy with USCIS’ Refugee Affairs Division, the close coordination with domestic resettlement partners across the country and the development and utilization of WRAPS are but a few of the significant advances that have placed the USRAP on the solid foundation it enjoys today. I also deeply appreciated your engagement and advice over the past year, as we have sought continued enhancements to the program – including the doubling of our Reception and Placement Grant for incoming refugees.

Terry, you have played an enormous role in the resettlement of some two million refugees in your 28 years in the job, and we wish you all the best as you move forward to retirement.

Thank you for your dedication and your service.


Remarks on 35 Years of Service

Date: 09/29/2010 Description: Terry Rusch Director, Office of Admissions, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and  Migration - State Dept ImageDIRECTOR FOR OFFICE OF ADMISSIONS RUSCH: In his bestselling book Big Russ and Me, the late Tim Russert frequently quoted his father’s favorite expression when reflecting on the greatness of the United States. “What a country!” he would say when marveling at the opportunities for personal achievement through hard work - regardless of economic or social status. He also marveled at the inherent goodness of average Americans.

That statement resonated with me - the granddaughter of Ukrainian and Irish immigrants, who received college tuition support from the federal government as the USG strove to increase the number of Russian speakers in the country during the Cold War. While there were no strings attached to the scholarship, the idea of one day working for the federal government in the foreign affairs area became a dream for me.

So, when a few months after graduation, a telegram arrived inviting me to work in the Soviet Union as a guide in a USIA exhibit, I was thrilled. The guides went through training and were told that our simple task was to “Tell America’s Story to the World”. As many of you may be aware, I am not prone to shyness and was more than happy to share my views on any subject in hundreds of conversations with Soviet exhibit visitors whose information about the United States was pretty limited and generally distorted. I recall one gentleman who wanted to know who I’d be voting for in the 1972 election. I responded that I couldn’t tell him who I’d be voting for since the Party out of power hadn’t yet determined who their nominee would be. But I could tell him who I’d be voting against since he was already in office and running for re-election. He gasped, looked around and whispered “Aren’t you afraid to say that, you work for the government!” I said “no, not particularly” and, as he walked away shaking his head, I suspect he, too, was thinking “What a country!”

Having been exposed to the stark alternative to a free, open and prosperous society, upon returning to the United States I had frequent “What a country!” moments of my own. Wayne almost convinced me that a comfortable life in Madison, Wisconsin wouldn’t be such a bad thing but, alas, the wanderlust bug had bitten. So I joined the Foreign Service and soon we were off to Manila. (By then it had become possible to be both married and female in the Foreign Service.) In what was then the post-Vietnam War era, the region was in transition and we had a fascinating three years in Asia. Before we left, however, thousands of Indochinese “boat people” fleeing Communism began arriving in neighboring countries – including in Manila Bay.

Little did I know that my professional life would one day be devoted to addressing problems such as theirs. Of course, the response of the United States was not to sidestep responsibility but, rather, it was to meet the challenge of this humanitarian crisis head on. This country’s embrace of hundreds of thousands of Indochinese refugees was a defining moment and launched new programs of refugee assistance and resettlement within the Department of State. As Wayne and I returned to Washington, the Refugee Act of 1980 was being enacted. After a few years in the Human Rights Bureau working on developing the Department’s role in the asylum process, the leaders of the then “RP” asked me to come over to work on the domestic resettlement program. And the rest is history.

So, why did I stay so long?

First, I could never imagine a more meaningful or interesting job, nor one in which stories on the front page of the Washington Post involve issues you work on every day.

Second, it was always an honor to represent – both domestically and abroad - the United States government and the American people who have so generously supported the admission and integration of refugees into our society.

And third, it was because all of you - and many others who aren’t here today were always there - - through the good times and the bad -- and were particularly supportive when I needed you most.

PRM’s leaders over the years – and several of them are here today – Jim Purcell, Phyllis Oakley, Bob Funseth, Priscilla Clapp, Richard English, Rich Greene, Doug Hunter - used their stature and influence to obtain the resources we needed, provided broad policy guidance and then trusted me and the rest of the Admissions team to manage this large and complex program. It was also a good thing that they were tolerant – particularly of my preference for the “unvarnished truth” over “political correctness” -- including the occasional irreverent commentary during Bureau staff meetings.

The Bureau has always been home to intelligent, committed and hardworking people. It is a model of how the Department’s Civil and Foreign Service personnel can bring their various skills and expertise to the table to work on issues together – whether we are in crisis management or day-to-day operations mode. But those who work hard should party hard and PRM’s reputation for the latter is well-deserved. I’ll miss participating in our various theatrical productions in which we’ve spoofed everyone and everything refugee world-related, always with the goal of ensuring that no one was allowed to take themselves too seriously around here.

Since 1983, through the collective efforts of PRM’s Admissions staff – past and present – we’ve admitted over two million refugees including Indochinese, Former Soviets, Bosnians, Cubans, Haitians, Lost Boys of Sudan, Somali Bantu, Kosovars, DROC Tutsis, Iraqis from the first Gulf War, Iraqis from the 2nd Gulf War, Bhutanese, Burmese, and so many others who needed help. The Admissions staff has always turned what may have seemed impossible to that which was abundantly achievable. And now, a big part of the reason I am so comfortable with the move into retirement is that the program is in great shape and staffed with excellent officers led by a skilled and experienced leadership team of Larry, Kelly, Barbara and Amy.

Of course, PRM’s programs do not function in isolation. For the Admissions program, colleagues from Consular Affairs, the Legal Advisor’s office and geographic bureaus have been particularly important to our success over the years. Outside of the Department, on the overseas side, I’ve been particularly gratified by the growth of the strong professional relationships we enjoy with DHS, UNHCR, IOM and overseas processing partners. And domestically, there would be no resettlement program without our Reception and Placement agencies and ORR’s staff at HHS. The professionalism and collegiality that typify your organizations have made the US Refugee Admissions Program a model of interagency cooperation.

And, now, if I may, a few conclusions drawn from the experience of the last 27 years:

1) Success in the USRAP should not be measured by numbers alone. The American people should have confidence that their generous support for this program is matched by our vigilance in both maintaining its integrity and ensuring that the needs of each refugee we invite to resettle here can responsibly be met. It is to your credit, Eric that you recognized the importance of this issue and moved the agenda so far forward early in your tenure.

2) The drafters of the Refugee Act were right when they established a level playing field for access to the USRAP. Since then, however, legislation of “special” programs and “special” adjudicatory standards for certain groups has crept in. While these measures may have seemed necessary at times to quell a heated political debate driven by vocal advocates, history has proven that – once established – these special programs go on for decades and long after their intended purpose has been achieved.

3) As in politics, all resettlement is local. Neither the federal government nor national voluntary agency headquarters resettle refugees. Communities do. Cities and towns across the country are on the front lines of refugee reception and integration – day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out. They are the ones who welcome the newcomer and give them the chance for a new life. They need to be listened to and deserve our respect and gratitude.

Finally, a word to every refugee who has or will come to this country in search of freedom, safety and hope for a better future. My wish is that you have a moment – or many moments – when you are struck by the opportunities that have presented themselves to you and the acts of generosity and kindness you have experienced here and find yourself agreeing with Big Russ: “What a country, indeed!”



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