Valley Falls, NY — On June 22, 2021, Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) introduced a resolution asserting the US’s “commitment” to refugees in the House of Representatives. The following day, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the resolution in the Senate.
Background of the Resolution
The resolution comes at a time when, in its own words, the world is experiencing “the worst displacement crisis in recorded history.” According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced in 2020, 11.2 million of whom were newly displaced that year. The number of displaced people rose every year since 2010. In addition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many displaced people are unable to relocate or resettle. According to UNHCR, the number of refugees resettled in 2020 decreased by 69% from the previous year.
The Goals of the Resolution
Resolution 490 highlights the integral roles of refugees in local economies and as frontline workers during the pandemic. It also praises the United States resettlement program. The program is both “a lifesaving solution crucial to global humanitarian efforts” and a political solution that to fortify global security. Additionally, it will help to further the United States’ foreign policy goals.
The resolution goes on to make several requests of the Secretary of State and the US ambassador to the UN. First, Resolution 490 asks these officials to ensure that financial support for refugee programs continues. Second, it asks the officials to seek ways to end or preclude crises that lead to people becoming refugees. Then, it urges that the United States open its doors and hit “robust admissions goals” for refugees. The resolution concludes by expressing America’s “strong commitment to protect millions of refugees”. Additionally, it seeks to reaffirm the objectives of World Refugee Day—which include honoring the “courage, resilience, and determination” of refugees.
Resolution 490 urges the US government to continue supporting refugees. But, what exactly does that look like more concretely? According to the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the US assists refugees by funding organizations that work on the ground. For example, beginning in 2012, the US provided $11.3 billion toward the Syrian refugee crisis. The money helped furnish mental health services to refugees in Turkey and clean water to refugee camps in Lebanon. In addition, in the Horn of Africa region, the US supports the efforts of UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other groups. UNHCR engages in a vast variety of projects, from providing tents to making banks and loans more accessible to refugees.
Domestically, President Joe Biden recently increased the number of refugees allowed to enter the US this fiscal year. On May 3, the President announced that the refugee admissions ceiling for 2021 would be lifted from 15,000 to 62,500. He also announced an objective to reach 125,000 refugee admissions in 2022. In a statement, the President said that the previous ceiling of 15,000 refugees “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
Yet America hasn’t always welcomed refugees or immigrants. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of laws restricted immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 banned Chinese laborers from immigrating to the US for the next decade. The Immigration Act in 1917 banned nearly all immigrants from most of the Middle East and Asia. Additionally, it banned “professional beggars,” those with mental illnesses or dangerous physical illnesses, and illiterate people. Later, immigrant quotas based on nationality blocked the entry of many refugees who were trying to escape the Nazis.
Laws facilitating refugee resettlement in the US appeared in the 1940s-1980s.
More recently, restrictive laws are increasing again. For instance, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 made the process of seeking asylum in the US more difficult. Furthermore, the act added reasons why immigrants could be denied entry to the US or deported.
In 2020, former President Donald Trump set the 15,000-refugee limit for the fiscal year 2021. According to the nonprofit US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this was a departure from a “decades-long average admissions ceiling of 96,000.”
Resolution 490 demonstrates US support for refugees, but it isn’t something America always practiced. “For 150 years, the US has alternated between…admitting…migrants and denying them entry,” a 2019 article in The Week summarized.
That makes Resolution 490 all the more important as an expression of how the US can work toward supporting refugees now and in the future.
– Victoria Albert