The Biden administration’s decision to admit 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, announced last week in the wake of the president’s European tour, is a huge step in the rebuilding of the U.S.’s once-vaunted refugee program after years in which the Trump administration all but neutralized it. If the U.S. intends to accommodate the upcoming year’s steep rise in refugees, however, the program must be expanded further.
At the urging of Stephen Miller, Trump’s mastermind of all things nasty when it came to making life miserable for immigrants, Donald Trump drastically reduced the numbers of refugees admitted yearly. He had already set a goal when he signed off on his final presidential conclusion on the issue in 2020. refugee cap of 15,000 per year. It was a shockingly low amount. barely one-sixth of the number admitted in Barack Obama’s final year in office, and a mere fraction of the 231,000 admitted in 1980; and — since refugee resettlement agencies receive much of their funding based on the numbers they are expected to resettle — it led to an evisceration of the U.S.’s resettlement programs.
The horrible idea of restricting admissions was made worse by a series of travel bansIt was mainly targeted at Muslim-majority nations, making it almost impossible for refugees from Yemen and Syria to enter the United States. The U.S. actively blocked refugees from areas where they were most needed.
Trump was determined to batten down the hatches against what he — and the far right in Europe — viewed as a tsunami of refuge seekers: In 2015-16, the period immediately before Trump’s election, more than 5 million asylum seekers and refugeesThe refugees from conflicts in Africa and the Middle East travelled to Europe to escape violence and economic collapse. Trump slammed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for making a “very catastrophic mistake” in liberalizing Germany’s asylum policies, and said that more migrants were going to Europe as a result. And Trump determined that he wouldn’t allow the U.S. to go down the same road.
Although he never quite reached the level zero refugee admissions advocated by Stephen MillerHe did not do anything to make it clear that refugees and asylees were not welcome.
Within a few years of Trump taking office resettlement agencies such as the International Rescue Committee were hemorrhaging jobs and closing officesAll across the country. In some states, including Florida — traditionally a hub for refugees and asylum seekers — the vast majority of refugee resettlement offices shut their doors.
Biden entered office promising to increase the refugee cap to 125,000. He then ran into a buzzsaw of criticism when, already attacked from the right for being “weak” on immigration because of the surging number of asylum seekers crossing the southern border, he appeared to walk back this pledge in early 2021. Faced with protests from within Democratic ranks over his campaign promise betrayal in early 2021, he reversed course, raising the cap to 62,500 and then increasing it to 125,000 in fall 2021.
However, the Afghanistan and Ukraine crises have impacted the lives of millions. Even that aspirational number may not be enough to meet the immense refugee resettlement needs of the moment.
After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the country’s rapid collapse back into brutal Taliban rule, the U.S. airlifted more than 130,000 people out of Afghanistan; by the late autumn, officials were estimating that about 50,000Many of them had already arrived or would soon arrive in the United States. Now, barely seven months later, Russia’s assault on Ukraine has unleashed the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, with nearly 4 million refugeesMany more people have been internally displaced in Ukraine since the beginning of the fighting.
The U.S. is now welcoming large numbers of refugees to its country. Some will be granted permanent residency under the refugee program, while others will be granted temporary status under the humanitarian assistance program. “humanitarian parole” programOnce they arrive, this is a significant step in the right directions for U.S. Refugee Policy.
However, many aid agency workers believe that the unthawing program for refugees is happening at a much too slow pace. Most Afghans were admitted under the humanitarian parole program rather than the refugee resettlement program, meaning that they aren’t on a pathway to permanent residency, and it looks like most Ukrainians will be admitted this way as well. For while the refugee cap was, indeed, raised to 125,000, that’s more a long-term goal than a reflection of on-the-ground realities. According to State Department data, this year’s refugee cap has only reached a fraction of that total. only about 8,000 refugees, has actually been accepted. The processing of refugees continues to be bogged down by staffing shortages and a denuded infrastructure — the legacy of Trump’s four years of unrelenting hostility to refugee resettlement.
The Ukrainian catastrophe, coming so fast on the heels of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban, has shown just how vital — and also how fragile — refugee resettlement infrastructure is. U.S. efforts have been successful in isolating the Taliban. freezing Afghanistan’s central bank assetsAs Biden did, ripple effects on civilians have occurred, further putting the state in economic crisis and fueling the exodus from desperate, hungry people.
Wealthy democracies are obligated to help those who have been displaced in an era of huge population upheavals due to wars and climate change. The President Biden is on track with raising the refugee cap as well as announcing that a large number of Ukrainians are eligible for entry to the U.S. He needs to find ways to increase the number of refugees who can be admitted through the traditional refugee resettlement route and to quickly channel funding to programs that have had to make devastating cuts in recent years.