Photo: Frantisek Trampota, 2016. Public Domain.

After the Trump administration's war on immigration, which sought to all but eliminate the admission of refugees, President-elect Joe Biden is promising to return the US to what passes for the civilized world by once again letting people left homeless by war and natural disaster find ... what's that word? Yes, refuge in America.

As NPR reports,

In 2016, President Barack Obama aimed to admit 110,000 refugees. President Trump lowered the cap on refugee admissions every year of his presidency. For fiscal year 2021, he set the cap at 15,000, the lowest on record.

Biden promises to take a starkly different approach from his predecessor: to "set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time."

Good thing we didn't let Stephen Miller sandblast the poem off the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty!

That said, it won't be easy to reopen the door that Trump and Miller tried to slam shut, because when the administration slashed refugee resettlement targets, that resulted in serious damage to the social services infrastructure that had been built up over decades to help resettle refugees in the US. Ashley Feasley, director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed Biden's reversal of Trump's official policy of deliberate cruelty, but acknowledged it's extremely unlikely the US will be able to take in anywhere near the goal of 125,000 refugees in the first year:

"There's a lot of systemic damage in the resettlement system, both domestically and internationally, that has to be addressed," she said. "That being said," she added, "our teams are confident that they can ramp up if they have a cooperative partner in the federal government, which we're certainly hopeful that we will."

Globally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that nearly 80 million people are currently "forcibly displaced." Most of them remain within their countries of origin after losing their homes, but some 26 million people are refugees, forced to seek help in other countries. And only about one percent of refugees end up being resettled in third countries annually. But even the presence of a few dozen refugees can be enough to make nativists whine that their countries are being "invaded," because racists are paranoid scum. "America First" has always meant letting other people die, just like the abandonment of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Even though the four years of Trump were relatively brief, they've already seriously damaged the nine big nonprofit agencies that had previously provided help for refugees arriving in America.

The agencies' budgets are based on the number of refugees admitted. Low admission levels reduced government funding, which decimated programs supporting newly arrived refugees. After the State Department told them to pare their operations, many agencies had to shutter or scale back offices and lay off workers.

"We're looking at a very big ramp-up because over the last four years, there's been an 85% cut and an effective demolition of the refugee resettlement program," says David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, the largest of the nine resettlement agencies.

Lord knows the need is there. The US refugee system has a backlog of more than 120,000 people who have already been vetted for admission. Even before Trump, the US had some of the strictest screening for potential refugees, but then Trump slowed down admissions even further by reducing the annual cap, and by adding "extreme vetting" requirements that didn't do anything to make the US more secure but created a lot more paperwork, and many more ways to arbitrarily keep people out.

Becca Heller, executive director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told NPR,

Now, you have to be able to provide every address you've lived at for the last 15 years and every passport number you had for the last 15 years, every social media handle that you've had for the last 15 years. [...] There's no indication that it does anything for anybody's safety.

But the goal wasn't security, it was always simply excluding refugees for the sake of keeping Fox News viewers happy, silly.

And of course, in keeping with such great American traditions as our disorganized withdrawal from Vietnam, when American officials casually ignored their vow not to leave Saigon government officials and their families behind, the US has largely ignored its pledge to help Iraqis who assisted the US military as translators and in other roles. Their lives are at risk, but we have a lot of paperwork to process: "In 2020, there were 4,000 slots for Iraqis who aided the U.S. military, but only 123 were resettled."

Still, while it's going to be challenging, Biden has at least made the commitment to return the US to its traditional role of providing refuge, and to reverse Trump's other immigration horrors as well. That may be complicated if the Senate refuses to ramp up funding for the refugee agencies (Why are we spending money on foreigns during a pandemic when we're refusing to help Americans? Oh, we could help Americans, too? Nahhh), but in terms of policy, there's a lot that can be changed through executive action, which is how Trump put most of the New Cruelty in place in the first place. All through the Trump years, the refrain was "We're better than this." It's damn well about time to prove that.

[NPR / America / Biden immigration policy / Image: Frantisek Trampota, 2016. Public Domain.

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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