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Trump left Biden a demolished refugee program that will be a nightmare to fix

Experts say Trump’s efforts have made it even harder for Biden to fix the system once he takes office.

By Amy Lieu - December 03, 2020
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Asylum seekers, refugees, immigration, family separation

President-elect Joe Biden vowed during the 2020 campaign to increase the number of refugees admitted to the United States. However, the Trump administration’s drastic cuts to the country’s refugee program will require a lot of time and effort to reverse, experts say.

As the Washington Post wrote this week, in October, Trump set the refugee admissions limit to 15,000 for the 2021 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2021. That number is far less than during the 2020 fiscal year, with its 18,000-admission limit, and diminutive compared to the 110,000 refugee admission cap set by former President Barack Obama during his last year in office.

Biden pledged to increase the refugee admissions to a historic high of 125,000 and establish a 95,000 annual minimum, making the announcement on World Refugee Day on June 20.

“The United States has always strived to serve as a beacon of hope — a role model in resettling refugees and leading the humanitarian response abroad,” he said in a Medium post. “Fear-mongering, xenophobia, and racism are the unabashed tenets of Trump’s refugee and immigration policy … but we will not, and we cannot, allow hate and rage to divide us further.”

However, experts say Trump hurt refugee admissions so significantly that restoring them won’t be as simple as just increasing the limit, as Biden plans to do.

“It is going to be hard,” Nazanin Ash, International Rescue Committee vice president, told the Post. “…The Trump administration was extreme with respect to the refugee admissions program, and they really looked at every possible way to massively alter the demographics and reduce the population and the pipeline of people coming to the United States.”

Trump and his administration have waged an all-out war against all forms of immigration since he took office, making a special target of refugees and asylum seekers.

In January 2017, just one week after taking office, Trump signed an executive order temporarily freezing the critical United States refugee resettlement program.

Trump’s top immigration adviser Stephen Miller also went so far as to suppress a study from the Department of Health and Human Services that showed a $63 billion surplus of revenue generated by refugees over a 10-year period, with the White House insisting instead “that refugees with few skills coming from war-torn countries take more government benefits from the Department of Health and Human Services than the average population, and are not a net benefit to the U.S. economy,” according to the New York Times.

Last year, Trump stripped protections for those fleeing violence in Venezuela, whose government the United Nations says has killed thousands of its citizens. The Trump administration refused to grant temporary protection status to those asylum seekers, allowing for them to be deported.

Trump has sought to end similar protections for immigrants from El Salavdor, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the southern border also resulted in hundreds of migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents, with no plans to reunite them. Many of those families were fleeing violence in their home countries in Central America, hoping to find refuge in the United States, but were turned away illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last month, a federal judge ordered a halt to the Trump administration’s expulsion of immigrant children who had crossed the southern border by themselves in search of protection.

Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, called the policy, which “was sending thousands of young children back to danger” without a court hearing, “gratuitously cruel and unlawful.”

The Trump administration’s “destruction” of the refugee admissions program specifically has been “extreme,” Ash said.

Shelly Callahan, executive director of The Center, a New York-based non-profit and part of the New York State Enhanced Services to Refugees Program, similarly told the Gotham Gazette last month that “the damage this administration has done cannot be undone.”

“To get back to the point where we can settle 110,000 refugees a year, it’s going to take a lot of time,” Callahan said. “We also have huge lack-of-workforce issues across the state. … We’re not keeping at pace with the population growth that we need in these areas.”

Wa’el Alzayat, chief executive of the Emgage Foundation for Muslim American civic engagement, told the Post that because a large number of nationwide resettlement offices had been closed down due to low refugee admissions in the last four years, many of the government officials who interview refugees overseas had also been directed to perform other duties, leaving in place a bare-bones system.

“It will be hard to rebuild these programs quickly” with infrastructure and decades of expertise having been “essentially eliminated,” Bob Carey, who worked for the Obama administration as director of the DHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, told Business Insider on Wednesday.

“[T]here is an opportunity to rethink what could work better” under Biden, he added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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