Image Credit: Joan

November 11, 2020; National Public Radio (NPR)

Had outgoing-president Donald Trump been reelected, he had plans to reduce the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States to 15,000, which would have been the lowest entry cap on record. President-elect Joe Biden, however, has plans to raise that cap to 125,000 with the intention of raising it from that base over time.

There are currently in excess of 120,000 refugees in the pipeline, including thousand who are at risk in their own countries after having worked with the US military, so there is no dearth of applicants.

But standing in the way of that, at least to begin with, is the loss of resettlement infrastructure over the past four years. NPQ has written about this extensively. When the flow of refugees slowed almost to a stop, the funding that accompanied them also stopped and well-established programs were cut to the bone. Valuable staff members with the language skills and cultural competencies needed to help in the resettlement processes were either laid off or re-assigned and working partnerships interrupted.

Becca Heller, executive director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, says it may take time to build that muscle back up. “It’s less relevant if we hit the exact number and more relevant that we say, ‘Admitting refugees is really important. We are going to aim at this high number and invest in infrastructure and get as close as we can.’ ”

“We’re looking at a very big ramp-up because over the last four years, there’s been an 85-percent cut and an effective demolition of the refugee resettlement program,” says David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, one of the nine resettlement agencies working across the country.

But the time to ramp up may already be built into the situation in that, as with many other urgent issues, refugees may have to wait for other priorities, like the pandemic, to be addressed. “For the first 100 days, there will be very little bandwidth for a Biden administration to deal with anything other than COVID. We have never faced a crisis like this before,” Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute says. “We can’t expect a huge leap on immigration policy. If people expect that this is going to happen tomorrow, they will be in for a big disappointment.”—Ruth McCambridge