A New Era for Refugee Resettlement

A day of firsts: five key takeaways from Biden's historic inauguration | Biden  inauguration | The Guardian
Joe Biden fist-bumps Kamala Harris after she took the oath of office.
Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images 

As America welcomes its new president with the inauguration of President Joe Biden earlier this year, we want to take a moment to discuss what a new presidential administration means for refugee resettlement.  

The Biden administration and refugee resettlement 

The past four years have seen resettlement in Tennessee reduced to a mere fraction of what it previously was. The ceiling set each year to determine how many refugees would be granted resettlement has been significantly lower than during every previous administration. 

The Biden administration has already indicated that it will seek to restore the status of the United States as a global humanitarian leader by defending the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. On a statement issued on World Refugee Day in 2020, Biden announced his intent to increase the refugee admissions cap to 125,000 to be “commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need.” This cap of 125,000 refugees is expected to be set in 2022. Currently, President Biden’s proposal to revise the 2021 cap of 15,000 to 62,500 arrivals is awaiting review from Congress.  

On February 4, Biden signed the Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration, which sets forth guidelines for rebuilding our nation’s decimated refugee resettlement program. The Order calls for increased efficacy, integrity, security, and transparency from the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP); calls for a plan to address processing backlogs and pursue security vetting processes that are effective, fair, and efficient; and formally revokes executive actions that defied the spirit of the 1980 Refugee Act with restrictions that undermined the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. 

This higher ceiling for refugee resettlement and the Executive Order reflects the United States’ historical commitment to offer refuge to individuals fleeing persecution and American values of opportunity, dignity, liberty, and welcoming. 

A year of building  

This next year will be a year of rebuilding in Tennessee. We will not likely see an immediate influx of refugees in Tennessee as a result of Biden’s actions. The process for vetting refugees can take up to 18 months, and travel has been slowed by safety procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can prepare now, however, for eventual increases in arrivals by building relationships and resettlement capacity. The Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies have not only harmed the economic, social, and national security benefits of a once robust refugee resettlement program. It has also reduced the capacity of resettlement agencies to help refugees find jobs, navigate healthcare and school systems, and otherwise integrate into their new communities. 

One important measure for a successful refugee resettlement program is the strength of its community relationships. Building capacity for resettlement cannot happen without the community resources, businesses, and residents that create stronger opportunities for integration. Relationships with employers will bolster Tennessee’s economy. Relationships with local and state government officials will ensure that all Tennesseans are lifted up by values of welcoming and home. Relationships with community members like you make Tennessee a state of neighbors. Reach out to a resettlement agency near you to attend quarterly Community Consultations where you can learn more about resettlement and capacity building in your area.