By Jasmin Lilian Diab
The United States’ political landscape, incumbent President and Hollywood production-style election is of concern to the world – and whether we like it or not, rightfully so. The reality of the matter is that a comprehension (and digestion) of American politics is pivotal towards our understanding of our own fate, foreign policy at a global scale, and more importantly, the fate of some of the world’s most conflict-ridden settings and most vulnerable populations. Truthfully, refugees, asylum seekers, and those regularly or irregularly fleeing persecution and conflict at any level, are at the mercy of developed governments’ policies, interests and sovereignty. And with the United States still constituting an essential beacon of hope for these populations from around the world, their desire to live “The American Dream” is governed by the President in office, his/her party and political will.
For the last four years under the Trump Administration, Republican and Democratic leaders have gone head to head over migrant detention facilities, the Administration’s family separation policy, nationwide immigration enforcement raids, the tightening of asylum rules, grave violations of international migration and refugee law, and the status accorded to DREAMers. Regardless of partisan affiliation, deep divisions between supporters of both parties over immigration remains a reality in the United States. If foreign policy tells us anything, Republicans have seen immigration as a critical threat to the country in recent decades – often making bold statements in the areas of making the United States “safer,” or “great again” for that matter. Democrats, on the other hand, have not seen immigration as a critical threat throughout their administrations.
A detailed look into now President-Elect Joe Biden’s ‘Plan For Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants’, and President Donald Trump’s agenda for his now obsolete second term in office gives a clear glimpse into projected immigration realities (and reform) under a Democratic President. Biden’s Plan makes significant updates and expansions from when the platform was first released to his approach on reforming the legal immigration system for when he enters the White House in January 2021, while Trump’s “second-term” agenda reiterated hard-line positions he has maintained (and intensified) throughout his time in office.
The Biden Administration’s essential task at the beginning of 2021 will most definitely be outlining a massive economic recovery plan in the aftermath of a pandemic. Building on this, Biden’s immigration platform ties the plan to immigrants’ contribution to economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era. His platform consistently highlighted the manner through which immigrants contribute to growing the U.S. economy in addition to how immigrants are a driver of economic growth across a number of key industries and sectors. The Biden platform also leans into the idea that of a “fair and just” immigration system which can facilitate economic growth.
According to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis, by 2021, Donald Trump would have reduced legal immigration by up to 49% since becoming president. Reducing legal immigration most harms refugees, employers and Americans who want to live with their spouses, parents or children in the United States. Biden reportedly plans to send an immigration bill to Congress on his first day in office. One which includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, as well as for more than 400,000 people covered by the Temporary Protected Status program. Biden further intends to rescind Trump’s travel bans on travellers from 13 countries (most of which are majority-Muslim or African nations) – a huge leap forward in the areas of asylum and economic migration.
Biden has publically stated that he would raise the annual ceiling for refugee admissions to 125,000, though he has not clearly stated how quickly this would be implemented in light of COVID-19 restrictions and other priorities. Trump infamously curbed refugee admissions sharply during his time in office, and his administration announced in September 2020 that it would allow no more than 15,000 refugees in the 2021 fiscal year. Prior to his November victory, Biden publically stated in October 2020 that intends to grant humanitarian protections to Venezuelans living in the United States “immediately,” and allow them to remain in the country and obtain work permits.
In a bold and much overdue move, Biden’s immigration plan would end the diversion of a significant part of government funds to building a wall along the US-Mexican border, and alternatively invest this money in screening infrastructure at legal ports of entry. In conjunction with this move, Biden also vowed to end Trump’s inhumane asylum policies, beginning with his ending the “remain in Mexico’” program, which allows U.S. border officers to return non-Mexican asylum seekers to dangerous locations in Mexico as their claims are adjudicated in U.S. immigration courts, nearly all without the benefit of legal assistance. Under the program, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, over 56,000 asylum seekers, including 16,000 children (about 500 of whom were under 12 months old), have been sent back to wait in Mexico. Biden criticized the program, saying it left migrants “sitting in squalor” at the border. As of October 2020, lawyers and NGOs seeking to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border by the Trump Administration were not able to locate the parents of 545 children.
The Biden-Harris victory follows four years of devastating policies for refugees, asylum seekers, and other people fleeing crises under the Trump Administration. The difference between the two administrations’ rhetoric on immigrants and refugees is outlined and clear. “Generations of immigrants have come to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs, the hope in their heart, and a desire to claim their own piece of the American Dream,” reads the Biden immigration plan. Biden insists immigration is essential to “who we are as a nation, our core values, and our aspirations for our future”. He further insists that the United States will never turn their backs on who they are or that which makes them “uniquely and proudly American”. This rhetoric is not only likely to restructure refugees’ and asylum seekers’ reality, but also give them the protection, dignity and hope to make it through what is anticipated to be a turbulent and converging 2021.
Jasmin a Canadian-Lebanese researcher, writer, manager, editor, reviewer, instructor and consultant in the areas of Forced Migration, Gender and Conflict currently based at the American University of Beirut, the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, AsylumConnect and Cambridge Consulting Services. She is the author of two books and over fifty academic and para-academic publications on intersectional issues across Migration, Gender, Conflict, Human Rights, International Relations and International Law.