Robert Crohan/Staff Writer
This month, the White House has demonstrated sharp inconsistency with regards to a difficult area of policy: refugee resettlement.
After promising on the campaign trail to institute a higher cap on refugee admissions, President Biden apparently backtracked, saying that the US must temporarily keep the Trump-era limit of 15,000 refugees per year gaining admission. However, he quickly raised this cap in response to criticism.
A final cap is expected to be set by May 15, but Biden’s initial goal of 62,500 is deemed unfeasible for the moment, given the decay of proper refugee admissions infrastructure inherited from President Trump.
Refugee resettlement groups and Democratic Party officials have criticized Biden’s lack of transparency and seeming “flip-floppiness.” All of this comes as the administration struggles to resolve a crisis at the border with Mexico, where a surge of new arrivals has overwhelmed immigration agencies and left hundreds of children and teenagers in desperate conditions.
It goes without saying that this is horrific and completely inexcusable in the United States.
I will not act like Biden can wave a magic wand and resolve everything at once, nor do I believe that the US can or should accept every single aspiring newcomer. However, I am a very strong proponent of fair and just immigration. I believe that we, as the leader of the free world and a top economy, have an obligation to accept as many refugees and immigrants as we possibly can, in a common-sense way.
We as FIU understand this perhaps better than most US universities. Most of my friends at FIU have one or more parents who immigrated from another country, and Miami itself was built by the determination and stories of immigrants. People from Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and more have made our city so great. I consider it a blessing to have grown up around so many stories, perspectives and backgrounds.
As expected, federal decisions on this subject affect us heavily, and could mean life or death for so many of our peers.
Biden has much on his plate, from infrastructure to public health, but this is an urgent matter that his administration should prioritize alongside the headlines. Instituting a higher and smarter cap on refugee admissions, tackling falsehoods attached to refugees themselves and assisting communities with resettlement will go a long way towards ensuring fairness for all.
But intertwined with this, more awareness regarding the reasons for migration in the first place is essential.
A higher cap at 125,000 is in the talks, a largely adequate number for a country in crisis that, all things considered, can at least provide a temporary haven for many in desperate situations. Alongside this must come better clarity from the White House about plans in consideration, something that refugee resettlement agencies have raised concern about.
Biden has thankfully allowed for more immigration from the Middle East and Africa, which is much-needed as the global environment for Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis and Yemenis worsens.
However, officials should also bear in mind that US diplomatic and military action, and lack of investment, in these countries has caused much of the movement we are seeing. The US has an obligation to work with other countries towards international efforts that will make source countries more livable, as well as free from destructive intervention, in areas like climate change and economics.
A higher cap would do more for our country than many might think: refugees not only contribute ideas to American society, but they also boost our economy with innovation and productive work. In addition, America, going back to our Founding Fathers, has been built by refugees of all stripes. Downplaying this would represent a dangerous threat to our basic democratic ideals.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges pertaining to refugees, with the strangling of global economies exacerbating economic-induced refugee crises from Africa and Latin America. However, limiting refugee admissions in this situation would deal a moral blow to everyone, and encourage autocratic policymaking. The US has a stronger capacity for public health than refugees’ home countries and the few developing countries that host the most refugees.
Furthermore, international efforts should encourage more and smarter refugee acceptance into able countries that accept few or treat them poorly.
The narratives surrounding refugees and their resettlement have reached a new extent in the 21st Century, with pandemics, terrorism and incidents of crime painting an ugly picture. However, Biden must help counter these narratives by making clear the facts: refugees commit little crime, do not spread overseas illnesses and are extremely unlikely to be engaged in terrorist activities.
This could be aided by more educational initiatives and stronger administrative rhetoric. The role of racism must be tackled. Consider, for instance, that Italian immigrants, in our great-grandparents’ time were treated much like Mexican immigrants are today: poor, lazy, entitled and a threat to the majority. However, Italians have made fantastic contributions to American society.
The elevation of refugee stories is crucial but lacking, and this alone could encourage Americans to consider refugee experiences and reconsider popular stigmas.
All of these efforts must be supplemented by a strong, coordinated federal effort to assist states and communities in the process. Leaders like Ilhan Omar, Joaquin Castro and George W. Bush have assisted their respective states in adjusting to immigration. However, America’s largest states are familiar enough with refugee resettlement.
The White House must establish programs to make other units more socially, economically, and environmentally suited to admitting refugees, tailored to each area’s context. For example, federal investment in Wyoming could create jobs and affordable housing near a community college where a refugee could build a new, successful future in an area where refugees are uncommon.
A lack of effort in this area has hindered refugee admissions and made it easier for refugees to have a poor experience here.
All in all, Biden has not enacted a sufficient enough response to the global refugee crisis. Although I trust that he means well, and expects progress, the country and world need a much more comprehensive and inclusive plan to admit more refugees and prevent the displacement of people in the first place. The most vulnerable are counting on us.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash