Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Refugees and Immigrants

Blog by John Murphy, LSSNCA Advocacy Associate

With the 2020 Presidential Election 14 days away, we pause to compare the candidates positions on refugee and immigration policy.

The Trump Administration Policy on Refugees and Immigrants

According to a White House Fact Sheet on immigration “… The primary goal of our [the U.S.] refugee policy is to enable refugees to ultimately return home, where they can help rebuild their communities- which also supports our foreign policy interests.” Unfortunately, this policy seems to be contradictory to the very definition of a refugee under international law, as one who CANNOT return to his/her home country because of a fear of physical harm, political prosecution or other serious danger.

The President’s proposal for refugee admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 “… reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.”  This was the subject of a separate Executive Order earlier this year temporarily halting for 60-days the issuance of green cards to immigrants outside the U.S. applying for permanent residency.  The order is intended to halt these immigrants from competing with U.S. citizens for jobs during the pandemic.  “It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.”

According to the same document, the U.S. anticipates receiving more than 300,000 new refugees and asylum claims in FY 2021.  Of that number, up to 15,000 would be refugees admitted through the refugee admissions program – down from 18,000 for FY 2020, of which under 11,000 were actually admitted according to U.S. State Department data.  This is the lowest level of new admissions in the 40-year history of the program.  In addition, more than 290,000 admissions would be individuals in new asylum cases.  This rationale is strikingly similar to that used to justify the steep cut in new admissions for FY 2020.  However in FY 2019, according to Statista reflecting State Department data only about 30,000 asylees were granted entry. 

Another area that the Administration has tried to clamp down on refugee admissions was through Executive Order 13888, which gave the chief elected officials of state and local government (i.e. governors and city/county government officials) a veto over who is resettled in their respective jurisdictions. These chief elected officials were required to notify the Secretary of State that they agreed to accept refugees.  All but one, Governor Abbott of Texas, stated affirmatively that they would.  A coalition of resettlement groups, including Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, sued the administration over the E.O. and they succeeded in January 2020 in getting a federal district court judge in Maryland to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the Administration from enforcing the order. On February 14th the Department of Justice appealed the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.  Until the Court of Appeals decides the cases, the Administration cannot require states to adhere to this E.O. for the current fiscal year.

Finally, the Trump Administration attempted to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, one that was established by the Obama Administration to offer “dreamers,” approximately 800,000 undocumented minors who came to the U.S. as children, deferred status that protects them from deportation and allows them to work for up to two years, a status that’s renewable.  However, by a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Administration’s action to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” as it did not provide a reasonable  rationale for its action, and therefore violated the  Administrative Procedures Act.  The decision returns the ball to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for possible further action.  For now, DACA-protected persons can continue to live, go to school or work without the fear of deportation.  Even if DHS decides to move again to terminate the program it would take a number of months and could be affected by a change in administrations.

Vice President Joe Biden’s Position on Refugees and Immigrants 

According to the Biden-Harris website, the Democratic hopeful has “…  a plan for securing our values as a nation of immigrants.

“Specifically, the plan would:

  • Reverse the current administration’s policy that separates parents from their children at the border;
  • Surge humanitarian resources at the border and foster public-private initiatives;
  • End prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program which supports migrants as they navigate the legal system;
  • End the “public charge rule” which would penalize persons who had relied on public resources during their time before gaining permanent residency;
  • End the “national emergency” that diverts funds from Pentagon projects to fund a wall along the southern border of the U.S.;
  • Protects Dreamers and their families;
  • Rescinds the “Muslim bans;
  • Review the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program to protect vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their own countries due to violence or disaster;
  • Create a roadmap to citizenship to the 11 million persons who have been living in the U.S. for years and who are up-to-date on their taxes and have passed a background check;
  • Reform the temporary visa system;
  • Increase the annual cap on refugee admissions to 125, 000, up from this year’s 15,000;
  • Tackle the root causes of migration by addressing the underlying violence, instability and lack of opportunity that is forcing people to leave their homes in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”

The policy concludes by stating “… As president, Biden will finish the work of the Obama Administration of building a fair and humane immigration system.  He will secure our border, while ensuring the dignity of immigrants and uphold their legal right to seek asylum…  He will insure our values are squarely at the center of our immigration and enforcement policies.”   

Why are the candidates positions on refugees and immigrants important to consider in the upcoming election?  They go to the heart of our values as a Nation — one of welcoming and protecting the stranger and treating him/her with dignity and respect. We should be aware of how policy in Washington affects our neighbors and their ability to seek refuge in the U.S.

Keep up with the latest information on refugee and immigration policy by signing up for our monthly E-News and subscribing to our social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To directly impact refugee resettlement your area, donate now to our Refugee and Immigrant Services.

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