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Two new citizens take their oath. They are standing in a large group of people and holding up their right hands.
Election 2020

Tracking Joe Biden's plans for refugees, asylum seekers and COVID-19

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Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

The legacy of the Trump Administration includes a dizzying number of policies targeting people seeking safety in the United States. The administration has turned away refugees, sent asylum seekers into danger, and diminished America’s global standing as a place of refuge for those seeking safety.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to be different. As a candidate and again after his victory, he committed to raising the refugee resettlement target to 125,000. He also said he would reunite families and reverse policies that have been devastating for asylum seekers. 

But what will it take to restore America's legacy of welcome and global leadership, particularly during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic? As the president-elect prepares to take office, follow this space for the latest analysis from our colleagues on the ground and at the forefront of policy changes impacting refugees, asylum seekers, and other people facing crises around the world.

Biden announces foreign policy team 

Thanksgiving week in the U.S. began with the announcement of key members of President-elect Biden’s foreign policy team. Former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was chosen as secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence. In addition, former Secretary of State and U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry was chosen as a special presidential envoy for climate. 

The IRC welcomed the deeply-experienced team and responded with a call, articulated by president and CEO David Miliband, for the cabinet to take urgent action on issues critical to our work.

These issues include global COVID-19 relief—we stressed the need for $20 billion in additional funding—and diplomacy in the world’s toughest conflict zones. We also called for much-needed support for the low and middle-income countries that host nearly 90% of the world’s refugees.

Miliband’s statement ended with demands closer to home in the U.S.:

“Credible leadership overseas requires bold humanitarian leadership at home. The IRC welcomes the President-elect’s ambitious commitment to welcome 125,000 refugees per year, after a record-low bar of 15,000 this year set by the Trump Administration. The humanitarian crisis unfolding at and below the US Southern border is no different: urgent action is needed to unwind inhumane policies like 'Remain in Mexico,' to surge humanitarian assistance to the Northern Triangle, and to reform the U.S. asylum process by prioritizing both competence and humanity.”

Later in the day, the IRC responded to Alejandro Mayorkas's tweet about his background as a former refugee from Cuba. The nominee for DHS secretary wrote that the U.S. "provided my family and me a place of refuge."

Read our explainer to learn more about how the Biden Administration can make a difference for refugees and asylum seekers.

- Sarah Arnold, November 23, 2020

A COVID-19 "second wave" sweeps the world 

The Biden Administration will have to confront the coronavirus on day one. But while much of the focus will be on the needs of Americans, we cannot forget people in crisis-affected countries abroad. They are likely to be hardest hit as we begin the winter and as they face the virus on top of hunger, rising gender-based violence, and economic collapse. 

What can we do? The IRC recently released a report with some key ideas. For one, we know that we need resources. To that end, we’re calling for the Biden Administration to commit $20 billion to attack the virus and to curb the havoc it will cause abroad.  

Seems like a lot of money? Think of this: The U.S. and the rest of the G20 and OECD countries allocated $11 trillion to domestic stimulus packages to help their populations in the wake of COVID-19. Just one percent of that amount could protect the world’s poorest 700 million people from the virus. And without protecting everyone from COVID-19, we won’t be able to end the pandemic for anyone. 

As the IRC’s vice president of public policy and advocacy Nazanin Ash said when responding to recent vaccine breakthroughs: "We must also not lose sight of the global picture that no solution will comprehensively return us to normality—not even a vaccine—unless the response prioritizes the world’s most vulnerable."

-Sarah Arnold, November 20, 2020

Dr Rasha Rashed, wearing an IRC vest, stands outside in front of a desert landscape

“COVID impacts every home,” says Dr. Rasha Rashed, an IRC reproductive health manager in Yemen. “It's like the war. In every home there is someone who has lost their father or mother or brother or husband or son.”

Photo: Kellie Ryan/IRC

One step closer to 125,000….

On the campaign trail, former Vice President Joe Biden said he would raise the refugee resettlement target to 125,000. He repeated that promise again last week, while speaking to refugee resettlement advocates. The IRC applauded this confirmation of his commitment on Twitter:

One critical phrase we want to emphasize in our response is “restore bipartisan norms.” When President Trump lowered the refugee resettlement target to a new low each year, he was bucking a tradition in his own party. The average refugee resettlement target of both Republican and Democratic administrations is 95,000. President Ronald Reagan even set a target of 140,000 one year—higher than President-elect Biden’s goal! Here’s what the famous Republican had to say about it: 

"We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression."

Want to learn more? Take our quiz to test your knowledge of U.S. presidents and refugees

-Sarah Arnold, November 19, 2020

Robert, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Phoenix, Arizona, holds an American flag and poses with his son while they both give a thumbs up.

Stand with refugees

Now is our chance to repair and rebuild refugee resettlement in the U.S.