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June 20 is World Refugee Day, set aside to mark the anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The convention was drafted following the devastation of World War II. Governments defined the term refugee and agreed that refugees have a right not to be returned to persecution or torture, the right not to be discriminated against, and the right to enjoy minimum acceptable conditions of stay and standards of treatment.

The 1951 Convention is more than a tool for deciding who does and does not qualify to be considered a refugee. It provides a framework, direction and guidance to countries to ensure that security concerns and public safety interests are taken into account in the operation of their asylum systems. The convention specifies the rights of refugees who enter unlawfully, and also underlines refugees' right to freedom of religion, education, protection from discrimination and access to the judicial system.

Minnesota is a top U.S. destination for refugees and is home to the ninth-highest number of refugees per capita in the nation. It has integrated refugees for decades, especially from Southeast Asia and East Africa. Those refugees have paid taxes, created businesses, expanded the state's cuisine, raised families and developed roots.

As the convention makes clear, refugees and asylum-seekers are not "illegal immigrants." U.S. law confers the right to seek asylum, though the Biden administration has significantly narrowed the ability for asylum-seekers to apply, essentially creating a lottery system for applicants at the southern border, which has led to violence and even to the death of some asylum applicants. More than a million asylum claims have not been decided. Huge backlogs invite false claims and undermine confidence in our legal system. Our country can do better to allow refugees the opportunity to present their cases and be heard in a timely fashion.

Of course, it would be an understatement to say there are differing opinions on how to address the border crisis, as we have both genuine refugees seeking protection and other migrants attempting to come for a host of reasons. The executive action taken by the Biden administration earlier this month, capping the number of asylum-seekers allowed across the southern border, will harm genuine refugees, further complicate and lengthen the decisionmaking process on genuine and meritless claims, and undermine U.S. leadership.

The U.S. has provided a safe haven to refugees since its inception and has formally implemented its refugee obligation through the 1980 Refugee Act. There's no reason to think the situation at our southern border is intractable. We are a nation of resourceful and creative problem-solvers. The issues are real and pressing, and the suffering and the numbers dictate that we must figure this out. Shutting the door to those in need of protection is not the answer.

The answer lies in system reform, investment, effective partnerships with other countries and expanding legal immigration pathways that benefit everyone involved. It also lies in support for faith-based nonprofits and civil society organizations that accompany and welcome newcomers, providing critical physical care, mental health support, education and training, housing and more. These groups have been doing this work effectively for many decades, helping new arrivals integrate into American communities.

Let's commit to reforming our asylum system and addressing border surges. No more scapegoating people for problems they didn't cause in homes they didn't want to leave in the first place. Refugees need and want a chance to rebuild their lives. We can and should protect refugees and address our border challenges, consistent with 1951 Convention principles.

Kelly Ryan is president of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C., that serves forcibly displaced people through detention chaplaincy, legal assistance, and mental health and psychosocial support. She is a two-time presidential appointee with more than 30 years of experience in refugee and asylum law, migration management, and human rights law and policy. She drafted the 1994 Asylum Regulations that successfully reformed the U.S. system.