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Biden-Harris Administration

Tracking Joe Biden's plans for refugees, asylum seekers and COVID-19

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Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC
Senior Content Officer, Digital Engagement
Senior Officer, Digital Advocacy

The legacy of the Trump Administration includes a dizzying number of policies targeting people seeking safety in the United States. The administration has turned away refugees, sent asylum seekers into danger, and diminished America’s global standing as a place of refuge for those seeking safety.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to be different. As a candidate and again after his victory, he committed to raising the refugee resettlement target to 125,000. He also said he would reunite families and reverse policies that have been devastating for asylum seekers. 

But what will it take to restore America's legacy of welcome and global leadership, particularly during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic? As the president-elect prepares to take office, follow this space for the latest analysis from our colleagues on the ground and at the forefront of policy changes impacting refugees, asylum seekers, and other people facing crises around the world.

Samantha Power named head of USAID 

On January 13, a week before inauguration day, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he would nominate former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to head the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The IRC responded on Twitter: 

An asylum system that welcomes those fleeing harm

The IRC responded on Friday, December 18, to new plans released by President-elect Biden that will impact how the U.S. treats asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The incoming administration says it wants to reverse Trump Administration policies like family separation, and released plans that include reforming the asylum system and focusing resources to address the humanitarian crisis at the border. The IRC took to Twitter to applaud the protection-forward approach to ending reckless policies that have exacerbated migration issues in the region. 

A reminder: Seeking asylum—even during a pandemic—is legal. Turning away asylum seekers is not. Learn more about how the Biden Administration can reunite families and uphold the rights of asylum seekers.

We look forward to working with the new administration to build a sensible system that welcomes those fleeing harm.

A victory for immigrant youth—but there’s still work to do

On Friday, December 4, a federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to fully reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The program, which the administration has been trying to shut down since 2017, will have to accept new applicants, and current DACA recipients will secure the right to work for two years, rather than one. 

As many as 300,000 new applicants could join the existing 800,000 DACA holders as a result of this change. More young people will no longer have to fear being deported to a country where they may not speak the language and that they may not have seen since they were children, or even infants. 

Although President-elect Joe Biden said he would reinstate the DACA program, only Congress can enact a permanent solution. U.S. senators and representatives must pass legislation to provide protection—and a pathway to citizenship—so DACA recipients can live their lives without fear of being deported or separated from their families. 

“I have to prepare for my future, but I have to be aware that my plans for my future may not happen,” said Lupe, a DACA recipient and youth leader originally from Mexico who spoke to the IRC earlier this year. The twenty-two year old was clear that preserving the program was only half of the battle. 

“We get to breathe for a bit, pero nuestra lucha sigue [our fight keeps going].”

- Sarah Arnold, December 17, 2020

Lupe smiles and looks at the camera while wearing a blue shirt that says #Health4All and a red cardigan.

Twenty-two-year-old Lupe immigrated from Mexico with her family when she was just two years old. She and two of her siblings have been DACA recipients since 2012.

Ending cruel policies at the U.S.-Mexico border

The Trump Administration’s increasingly restrictive policies violate international and U.S. asylum laws and have resulted in inhumane treatment of asylum seekers at our southern border. The Biden Administration will inherit and have to address these policies, which include separating children from their parents, limiting asylum eligibility, and unlawfully expelling people in need of humanitarian protection in the U.S. 

While the IRC has outlined comprehensive recommendations needed to protect asylum seekers and preserve pathways for other people seeking safety, it is up to the president-elect's incoming administration to put a new asylum system in place that not only addresses the damage done in the past four years but also pushes the U.S. to do more to ensure the dignity, safety and recognition of rights for all.

- Melinda Frimpong, December 2, 2020

Biden announces foreign policy team 

Thanksgiving week in the U.S. began with the announcement of key members of President-elect Biden’s foreign policy team. Former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was chosen as secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of 比特币的网址homeland Security, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence. In addition, former Secretary of State and U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry was chosen as a special presidential envoy for climate. 

The IRC welcomed the deeply-experienced team and responded with a call, articulated by president and CEO David Miliband, for the cabinet to take urgent action on issues critical to our work.

These issues include global COVID-19 relief—we stressed the need for $20 billion in additional funding—and diplomacy in the world’s toughest conflict zones. We also called for much-needed support for the low and middle-income countries that host nearly 90% of the world’s refugees.

Miliband’s statement ended with demands closer to 比特币的网址home in the U.S.:

“Credible leadership overseas requires bold humanitarian leadership at 比特币的网址home. The IRC welcomes the President-elect’s ambitious commitment to welcome 125,000 refugees per year, after a record-low bar of 15,000 this year set by the Trump Administration. The humanitarian crisis unfolding at and below the US Southern border is no different: urgent action is needed to unwind inhumane policies like 'Remain in Mexico,' to surge humanitarian assistance to the Northern Triangle, and to reform the U.S. asylum process by prioritizing both competence and humanity.”

Later in the day, the IRC responded to Alejandro Mayorkas's tweet about his background as a former refugee from Cuba. The nominee for DHS secretary wrote that the U.S. "provided my family and me a place of refuge."

Read our explainer to learn more about how the Biden Administration can make a difference for refugees and asylum seekers.

- Sarah Arnold, November 23, 2020

A COVID-19 "second wave" sweeps the world 

The Biden Administration will have to confront the coronavirus on day one. But while much of the focus will be on the needs of Americans, we cannot forget people in crisis-affected countries abroad. They are likely to be hardest hit as we begin the winter and as they face the virus on top of hunger, rising gender-based violence, and economic collapse. 

What can we do? The IRC recently released a report with some key ideas. For one, we know that we need resources. To that end, we’re calling for the Biden Administration to commit $20 billion to attack the virus and to curb the havoc it will cause abroad.  

Seems like a lot of money? Think of this: The U.S. and the rest of the G20 and OECD countries allocated $11 trillion to domestic stimulus packages to help their populations in the wake of COVID-19. Just one percent of that amount could protect the world’s poorest 700 million people from the virus. And without protecting everyone from COVID-19, we won’t be able to end the pandemic for anyone. 

As the IRC’s vice president of public policy and advocacy Nazanin Ash said when responding to recent vaccine breakthroughs: "We must also not lose sight of the global picture that no solution will comprehensively return us to normality—not even a vaccine—unless the response prioritizes the world’s most vulnerable."

-Sarah Arnold, November 20, 2020

Dr Rasha Rashed, wearing an IRC vest, stands outside in front of a desert landscape

“COVID impacts every 比特币的网址home,” says Dr. Rasha Rashed, an IRC reproductive health manager in Yemen. “It's like the war. In every 比特币的网址home there is someone who has lost their father or mother or brother or husband or son.”

Photo: Kellie Ryan/IRC

One step closer to 125,000….

On the campaign trail, former Vice President Joe Biden said he would raise the refugee resettlement target to 125,000. He repeated that promise again last week, while speaking to refugee resettlement advocates. The IRC applauded this confirmation of his commitment on Twitter:

One critical phrase we want to emphasize in our response is “restore bipartisan norms.” When President Trump lowered the refugee resettlement target to a new low each year, he was bucking a tradition in his own party. The average refugee resettlement target of both Republican and Democratic administrations is 95,000. President Ronald Reagan even set a target of 140,000 one year—higher than President-elect Biden’s goal! Here’s what the famous Republican had to say about it: 

"We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression."

Want to learn more? Take our quiz to test your knowledge of U.S. presidents and refugees

-Sarah Arnold, November 19, 2020

Robert, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Phoenix, Arizona, holds an American flag and poses with his son while they both give a thumbs up.

Stand with refugees

Now is our chance to repair and rebuild refugee resettlement in the U.S.