Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

What the Biden Administration Will Do for Refugees

The election of Joe Biden as President of the United States and Kamala Harris as Vice President has brought the rights of many marginalized groups to the forefront of democracy in a way that the Trump administration has not. Through various social media posts, press conferences, rallies, and other efforts, President Trump instead fostered sentiments that were anti-LGBTQ+, anti-science, racist, and sexist—and he continues to do so. Trump has especially used his platform to foster negative sentiments towards immigrants and refugees, a rhetorical “othering” strategy that has been in place since the beginning of his campaign for the 2016 presidential election. While Trump has "othered" many marginalized groups, he took a particularly strong stance against undocumented immigrants; specifically those trying to cross the Mexican border, as well as Muslims seeking exile from Middle Eastern and North African countries. 

In efforts to undermine the many people trying to seek refuge and better opportunities in the United States, Trump made two stringent policies part of his four-year plan: the proposition of a “big, beautiful wall” at the 1,900-mile-long US-Mexico border, and a restriction on Muslims from entering the country, called the “Muslim Ban.” While these othering policies were major parts of Trump’s ultimate platform, they are merely two of many xenophobic policies and attitudes of his administration. Why do so many people, especially from these Muslim-majority countries, want to flee to the United States? For many, the US represents freedom from violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as someone “fleeing conflict or persecution.” They are “defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk.” Many are forced to leave at a moments’ notice, often unable to bring personal belongings and permanently separated from loved ones as a result of civil wars, religious persecution, or other acts of brutality. After enduring the dangerous and forbidden border-crossing process, in an attempt to flee from hatred and violence, many refugees do not survive. It is incredibly important for the international community to take initiative so further atrocities can be avoided.

 People from other countries were not part of Trump’s plan for a “great” America. The border wall with Mexico was partially constructed during Trump’s time in office, and he is hoping to continue expanding the wall before he leaves in January. Trump has consistently taken a strong stance against undocumented immigrants, most recently through an attempt to exclude millions of them from the 2020 Census. Through the construction of a 1,000-mile border wall, which he claimed Mexico would pay for, Trump maintained that immigrants seeking asylum would be deterred from crossing the highly policed border without going through the strenuous path to citizenship first. 

The citizenship process has become much more difficult for immigrants in recent years due to the financial burden it places on applicants, limits on the number of green cards available, and the length of time it takes to receive approval. Despite Trump’s claims, however, nearly half of all undocumented residents currently in the US have overstayed visas, and did not cross the border illegally. On his first day in office, Biden plans to send an immigration bill to Congress that will include a pathway towards citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. Biden also plans to halt construction of the wall at the US-Mexico border.

 Trump’s proposed “Muslim Ban” was instituted in many phases throughout his presidency. The initial two iterations of the ban were denied by federal judges, but the third was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018, and claimed that the President has the authority to suspend the entry of citizens of Muslim-majority countries to the US. The current ban bars citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar, and Kyrgyzstan from applying for non-immigrant visas to the US, an extreme vetting strategy to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the country. Trump did note, however, that Christians facing persecution in Syria, specifically, would receive aid.  

In 2019, the UNHCR documented 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; 26 million of these were refugees, about half of whom were under the age of 18. In 2016, President Barack Obama sought to admit 110,000 refugees to the U.S. Throughout his presidency, Trump continuously lowered the ceiling on this limit, and had plans to admit a maximum of 15,000 refugees to the US in 2021, the lowest threshold on record. Between his xenophobic rhetoric and lack of acceptance toward those seeking asylum, Trump destroyed the country’s reputation as a worldwide leader in humanitarian aid.

What, then, will a Biden-Harris administration mean for refugees seeking asylum in the United States? Biden plans to reassert the country’s commitment to those fleeing persecution and undo Trump’s immigration reforms. He has vowed to raise the number of admitted refugees to 125,000 during his first year in office. Biden acknowledges that, as a nation built by immigrants, now is not the time to deny others access to “the American Dream,” nor will it ever be. While Biden wants to secure the US border, he acknowledges that the dignity of migrants and the legal right to seek asylum must be upheld. His plans include, but are not limited to, ceasing the detention of children at the US border, ending persecution for minor immigration violations and reunifying families, and getting rid of the “metering” policy that placed a quota on the daily number of accepted asylum applications. 

A Biden-Harris administration will bring back the notion that the US is not a nation with closed borders, but one open to diverse cultures and backgrounds--a nation that values and respects the inalienable rights of those whose have been taken away. While it will take a full four years, perhaps even more, to undo the immigration policies that Trump put in place (over 400 executive orders, to be exact), the Biden administration will take action against the occurrences that have detained, deported, and killed immigrants. Biden will defend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which will stop deportation of immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. Biden will lift restrictions on those seeking asylum at the southern border. Biden will allow those fleeing every sort of hardship, those often stripped of their rights in their home countries, access to the “American Dream” he has promised. It is an uphill battle, but one worth fighting.

The most important aspect of these plans is not adjusting the number of people who are allowed to cross the border from any direction, but proving to the domestic and world population that the US will prioritize and provide aid to refugees. The US cannot continue to remain far-removed from the violence that ensues in other countries, and even at our own border, but must acknowledge that we have an obligation to welcome and support those who are seeking asylum, regardless of religious or ethnic background. Hopefully, a Biden presidency will undo what was lost over the last four years and prove that the US is capable of this once again.

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Political Science major, avid res walker, and certified bagel snob.