On World Refugee Day, as war breaks out in Ukraine, the number of people forcibly displaced has increased globally top 100 million for the first time in recorded history. And while the United States has made some progress in reclaiming its historical reputation as a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution, we have a long way to go.
Two years ago today, that reputation was bleak. The US welcomed just 11,814 refugees at the end of fiscal year 2020. Our refugee resettlement program was greatly damaged by the deliberate policies of the Trump administration, then almost completely shut down by COVID.
I know many of us felt hopeful when then-presidential candidate Joe Biden marked World Refugee Day 2020 promise ofIf elected, to set an annual refugee limit of 125,000.
But two years later, the global situation for refugees has only worsened – and eight months into the federal fiscal year, the US refugee resettlement program is on track to resettle fewer than 19,000 individuals this year, a far cry from the 125,000 threshold. Is.
We must do better; We have to lead. And we still can. We are going through a historic refugee crisis, and we can make meaningful improvements.
This work begins by acknowledging what our refugee resettlement agencies and organizations are doing and learning from their hard-earned successes. Most notably, the US resettled more than 70,000 Afghans in the past 10 months – even though these Afghans were not included in the formal refugee count for technical reasons.
It was a remarkable rehabilitation effort. Despite facing office closures and staffing shortages under previous administrations, resettlement agencies linked jobs to safe housing, school-enrolled children and adults during the national housing shortage, making them financially self-sufficient. .
So, while the evacuation was not smooth – and left behind many for whom we continue to advocate – the rehabilitation effort was still a significant achievement.
However, we risk leaving this mission unfinished. Since most Afghans were not formally admitted as refugees, but rather as parolees, they are unable to apply for permanent legal status. The lack of congressional action on the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act – which would allow evacuated Afghans to apply for permanent status – adds additional tension to Afghans whose valid attendance and work authorization documents currently carry an expiration date, which Live in fear of potentially coming back. For the Taliban, and those who do not have the capacity to petition for family members, they are left behind.
both our rehabilitation success And The long-term uncertainty is now repeating with Ukrainians who, like Afghans, are certainly refugees but are, in most cases, being brought to the US as parole.
Of course, we hope and pray that the war will end quickly, and that these individuals will be able to return to a free, safe Ukraine. Yet many – particularly those who had already reunited with family here in the US – will likely want to rebuild their lives in the long term in the US, which does not allow parole.
The reliance on parole, which removes bureaucratic hurdles but leaves people without permanent status, which is rightly offered to resettled refugees by US law, demonstrates a major problem.
The US refugee admissions program, originally designed to be a quick, nimble tool of protection for displaced persons, has become a program so burdened by bureaucratic inefficiencies and delays that its original purpose is now effectively blocked . Efforts to identify, screen, and process refugees abroad – allowing the US to welcome both those who have fled emerging crises and those who have been held in refugee camps for years or decades – have been very slow. Used to be.
Instead of relying on parole as the solution to these delays, the Biden administration and Congress should work together to rebuild and reform a robust, agile refugee resettlement process. Biden needs to raise the refugee threshold with the determination of his next presidency, but it is not enough; We also really need a concerted effort the access That roof.
That means increasing US government capacity for foreign processing, which was nearly stalled by Trump administration policies, a confluence of diverting resources to focus on COVID and other priorities. It also means re-imagining extremely inefficient processes. The recent move to rely on video conference for some interviews rather than requiring a personal interview that requires extensive travel is a good first step. Ukrainians are now being vetoed for parole within days instead of the years often required through traditional refugee procedures, indicating that it is Possible Maintaining high standards for both and moving more quickly when there is political will – which is what our elected leaders need to find.
That’s because welcoming refugees isn’t just about fulfilling the campaign’s promise; It is a question of fulfilling our national potential as a country built and strong by the contributions of people from all over the world. It is about upholding our commitment – codified in a law passed unanimously by the US Senate that established the US Refugee Admissions Program – to stand with the persecuted and not return them to danger.
The president has made only partial progress toward restoring the United States as a refuge for the persecuted. The great work of refugee resettlement agencies, nonprofits, churches and individuals has allowed many to rebuild their lives in safety. But we have much more to do.
Miles Green is the president and CEO of World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization that is one of nine national agencies that partner with the US State Department to resettle refugees.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.