.
O

n January 20th, President-elect Joe Biden will inherit a divided country reeling from an unchecked pandemic, a volatile economy, and a healthcare system under duress. Reform to U.S. refugee policy may not seem likely to top the new administration’s priority list. It should.  

To build political capital both at home and abroad, the Biden administration should endorse the UN Global Compact on Refugees, raise the refugee admissions ceiling, and rescind unnecessary vetting requirements within its first 100 days. The outgoing administration’s preoccupation with border security and national identity obscured critical elements of refugee policy that explain why reform will earn Biden international support, as well as domestic support from both sides of the political aisle.

Refugee resettlement is historically bipartisan.

Refugee policy became a flagship of progressive resistance during the Trump administration. But political history tells a less divisive story. Some of the highest recent refugee resettlement numbers in the U.S. were set under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Even in the aftermath of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration resettled an average of 87,000 refugees per year (compared to the cap of 15,000 set by Trump in 2020). When Trump issued his short-lived executive order allowing state authorities to refuse refugees, governors in red states rejected the option and opened their doors anyway. Liberal politicians who have long championed a more inclusive America share rare common ground with many evangelical Republicans whose stance on refugee resettlement is informed by the moral imperatives of their religion.

Refugee resettlement will facilitate domestic investment.

Flight is immediate, but displacement and its drivers are not. Conflicts last an average of 37 years. The immediate humanitarian response to displacement must be followed by long-term development solutions that include expansive economic policy, private sector investment, and infrastructure improvement—the same strategies that promote and sustain domestic growth.

Lessons learned from international efforts such as the Jordan Compact, which “crowded in concessional financing and beyond-aid incentives,” can be applied domestically. U.S. resettlement policy should include infrastructure investment, teacher trainings, vocational trainings, work permit flexibility, and tax incentives for small businesses who hire new arrivals. Comprehensive investment is necessary for effective resettlement that reduces violence and instability, affords people dignity and opportunity, and leads to better social and economic outcomes for both resettled and host communities. This kind of investment will also bolster the stability of American cities such as Detroit and Dayton that have both the capacity to absorb a larger population and need for long-term development initiatives.

Refugee resettlement is in our national security interests.

Eighty-eight percent of refugees settle in low- and middle-income countries. Only 10 countries, with just 2.5 percent of global GDP, host half of the world’s refugees. The countries who absorb the bulk of refugees are ill-equipped to provide economic opportunity and unable to dedicate resources to fostering integration and reducing violence.

In 2017, when the Myanmar military executed a genocidal campaign against ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims, more than 700,000 refugees fled across the border to Bangladesh. Two years later, Bangladesh is still waiting for an effective international response to the humanitarian catastrophe. Lethal gang violence has broken out in Rohingya camps and terrorist networks have sought inroads to build their ranks by preying on “the world’s least wanted people.” Just as the United States resettled people fleeing Communism to build alliances against a common enemy, the Biden administration should resettle people fleeing terrorism and ethnic violence, who are most likely to be targeted for recruitment and who stand to be the strongest opponents of violent extremism.

Raising the cap on refugee resettlement will reassert a position of global moral leadership.

The U.S. has led wealthy nations in a retreat from humanitarian obligations to displaced people. Availability of resettlement slots has decreased 50 percent worldwide, at a time when 70 million people are displaced and nearly 26 million are refugees.

While the President-elect may have enjoyed more support from the international community than President Trump, the weakened image of U.S. leadership must be remedied with political action not electoral success. Reforming America’s refugee policy would send a powerful signal that we will no longer retreat from the world’s most pressing global challenges, and that we are once again prepared to lead, both compassionately and strategically, by example.

What about COVID-19?

COVID-19 will undoubtedly complicate efforts to increase refugee resettlement. But the pandemic also makes reform to our policies more urgent. The health crisis has not reduced the number of people facing credible threats to their lives as a result of war, political violence, or natural disaster. It has, however, exacerbated the risks for those living in crowded refugee camps that do not allow for preventative measures such as social distancing and have little health infrastructure in place to respond to refugee needs.

U.S. communities are also in need of comprehensive government investment to recover from the pandemic. Strengthened community infrastructure will determine which cities recover more quickly from the current economic downturn. If prioritized, refugee resettlement will allow the U.S. new opportunities to bolster our international image, while creating wealth, opportunity, and security at home.

About
Carolyn Nash
:
Carolyn Nash manages human rights and governance programming for Trocaire Myanmar. She has worked previously in Indonesia, East Timor, Kenya, and Uganda.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Refugee Policy Reform Will Earn Biden Political Capital

Photo by Miguel Angel via Unsplash.

November 18, 2020

O

n January 20th, President-elect Joe Biden will inherit a divided country reeling from an unchecked pandemic, a volatile economy, and a healthcare system under duress. Reform to U.S. refugee policy may not seem likely to top the new administration’s priority list. It should.  

To build political capital both at home and abroad, the Biden administration should endorse the UN Global Compact on Refugees, raise the refugee admissions ceiling, and rescind unnecessary vetting requirements within its first 100 days. The outgoing administration’s preoccupation with border security and national identity obscured critical elements of refugee policy that explain why reform will earn Biden international support, as well as domestic support from both sides of the political aisle.

Refugee resettlement is historically bipartisan.

Refugee policy became a flagship of progressive resistance during the Trump administration. But political history tells a less divisive story. Some of the highest recent refugee resettlement numbers in the U.S. were set under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Even in the aftermath of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration resettled an average of 87,000 refugees per year (compared to the cap of 15,000 set by Trump in 2020). When Trump issued his short-lived executive order allowing state authorities to refuse refugees, governors in red states rejected the option and opened their doors anyway. Liberal politicians who have long championed a more inclusive America share rare common ground with many evangelical Republicans whose stance on refugee resettlement is informed by the moral imperatives of their religion.

Refugee resettlement will facilitate domestic investment.

Flight is immediate, but displacement and its drivers are not. Conflicts last an average of 37 years. The immediate humanitarian response to displacement must be followed by long-term development solutions that include expansive economic policy, private sector investment, and infrastructure improvement—the same strategies that promote and sustain domestic growth.

Lessons learned from international efforts such as the Jordan Compact, which “crowded in concessional financing and beyond-aid incentives,” can be applied domestically. U.S. resettlement policy should include infrastructure investment, teacher trainings, vocational trainings, work permit flexibility, and tax incentives for small businesses who hire new arrivals. Comprehensive investment is necessary for effective resettlement that reduces violence and instability, affords people dignity and opportunity, and leads to better social and economic outcomes for both resettled and host communities. This kind of investment will also bolster the stability of American cities such as Detroit and Dayton that have both the capacity to absorb a larger population and need for long-term development initiatives.

Refugee resettlement is in our national security interests.

Eighty-eight percent of refugees settle in low- and middle-income countries. Only 10 countries, with just 2.5 percent of global GDP, host half of the world’s refugees. The countries who absorb the bulk of refugees are ill-equipped to provide economic opportunity and unable to dedicate resources to fostering integration and reducing violence.

In 2017, when the Myanmar military executed a genocidal campaign against ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims, more than 700,000 refugees fled across the border to Bangladesh. Two years later, Bangladesh is still waiting for an effective international response to the humanitarian catastrophe. Lethal gang violence has broken out in Rohingya camps and terrorist networks have sought inroads to build their ranks by preying on “the world’s least wanted people.” Just as the United States resettled people fleeing Communism to build alliances against a common enemy, the Biden administration should resettle people fleeing terrorism and ethnic violence, who are most likely to be targeted for recruitment and who stand to be the strongest opponents of violent extremism.

Raising the cap on refugee resettlement will reassert a position of global moral leadership.

The U.S. has led wealthy nations in a retreat from humanitarian obligations to displaced people. Availability of resettlement slots has decreased 50 percent worldwide, at a time when 70 million people are displaced and nearly 26 million are refugees.

While the President-elect may have enjoyed more support from the international community than President Trump, the weakened image of U.S. leadership must be remedied with political action not electoral success. Reforming America’s refugee policy would send a powerful signal that we will no longer retreat from the world’s most pressing global challenges, and that we are once again prepared to lead, both compassionately and strategically, by example.

What about COVID-19?

COVID-19 will undoubtedly complicate efforts to increase refugee resettlement. But the pandemic also makes reform to our policies more urgent. The health crisis has not reduced the number of people facing credible threats to their lives as a result of war, political violence, or natural disaster. It has, however, exacerbated the risks for those living in crowded refugee camps that do not allow for preventative measures such as social distancing and have little health infrastructure in place to respond to refugee needs.

U.S. communities are also in need of comprehensive government investment to recover from the pandemic. Strengthened community infrastructure will determine which cities recover more quickly from the current economic downturn. If prioritized, refugee resettlement will allow the U.S. new opportunities to bolster our international image, while creating wealth, opportunity, and security at home.

About
Carolyn Nash
:
Carolyn Nash manages human rights and governance programming for Trocaire Myanmar. She has worked previously in Indonesia, East Timor, Kenya, and Uganda.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.