Refugee advocates in the United States are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to reverse some of Donald Trump’s most restrictive immigration policies, including historically low admission rates for asylum seekers, when he takes office in January.
Rebuilding the U.S. refugee program may take time, said Becca Heller, executive director of the advocacy group for the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), but it’s crucial for thousands of asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be heard.
“Rebuilding the refugee program may take some time, but the thousands of refugees who have been waiting in limbo for years are running out of time,” Heller said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.
The U.S. refugee admission program was severely restricted under the Trump administration, which issued increasingly restrictive quotas for refugee admission and lowered refugee acceptance by more than 80 percent compared to the last year of former President Barack Obama’s administration Has.
On Friday, the IRAP published recommendations for the future Biden government to regulate the admission of refugees and asylum seekers to the state – and to “rebuild” the federal admission program.
The Recommendations, Expanding Complementary Pathways for Refugees and Displaced Persons: A Draft for the U.S. Government (PDF), point to six main areas where action can be taken, including family reunification, private sponsorship, and journeys to work for refugees.
Biden has signaled his openness to expanding the reception of refugees.
He pledged to set a target for refugee admission of 125,000 per year and work with Congress to set a minimum admission of at least 95,000 per year on World Refugee Day in June, in line with historical averages.
This would be a significant change from Trump’s actions: the Republican president’s final decision to accept refugees into the US set the ceiling at 15,000, the lowest since the 1980 Refugee Act came into force.
Biden also reportedly plans to restore DACA, the Obama-era program that protects against deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, and an end to the so-called “Muslim ban” that is now being imposed on travelers from Nov. Prohibits countries not all of which have a Muslim majority.
The incoming Biden government is also expected to freeze deportations for 100 days pending updated guidelines.
US President-elect Joe Biden takes off his face mask to address in Wilmington, Delaware on Nov. 16 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]The IRAP’s recommendations are lengthy given the complexity of U.S. refugee asylum and resettlement programs, which work with a wide variety of organizations, from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to local governments.
Many local resettlement agencies receive funding based on the number of refugees entering the US.
This means that fewer refugee resettlements during the Trump administration have financially drained many of these groups and closed some, which could make resettlement difficult in certain areas.
However, the IRAP welcomed Biden’s initial pledges, stressing that “the new government should make efforts on the first day to put in place programs for family reunification and protection of those at risk,” Heller said.
Among their recommendations, the group wanted Biden to issue executive orders dealing with “unreasonable delays” stating that “family unity is a national priority”.
Biden should also help mitigate issues arising from Trump’s restrictive policies that have created bottlenecks and separated families – either through violent separation or longer processing times for applications.
“A messy patchwork”
JC Hendrickson, senior director of public policy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global aid agency that helps refugee resettlement in the U.S., told Al Jazeera that he welcomed Biden’s promise to expand refugee reception and support the Trump Repeal politics.
“But the US asylum system needs to be examined carefully. It’s a chaotic patchwork of different laws, laws and regulations, ”Hendrickson Al Jazeera said in an interview.
The IRC has published its own recommendations, both on issues relating to the US-Mexico border and the refugee reception program, including a new in-depth study of the program.
No such study has been conducted since 2005, and Hendrickson said global resettlement needs have increased over the past 15 years, in large part due to conflict, economic volatility, climate change and other issues.
Many asylum seekers reaching the U.S.-Mexico border come from countries grappling with these issues, be it security concerns from organized crime or the recent hurricanes that have struck Central America.
But at the border, they encounter “cruelty-determined guidelines” that restrict “access to long-standing paths” to safely seeking asylum, Hendrickson said.
This includes the “stay in Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their trials can take place in the US.
While Biden is busy in its first 100 days – an early move to assess the effectiveness of a new president – Hendrickson said it will be necessary to develop “a new set of guidelines” to protect asylum seekers.
It is a big task to deal with the problems in the US asylum and refugee systems. “The world will watch how we do it.”