Venezuela has the second-largest external displacement issue in the world, just behind Ukraine. Just 11,411 refugees resettled in the United States in the fiscal year 2021, the fewest since 1980. The administration has conceded that meeting its objective of resettling 125,000 refugees this year will be challenging. Venezuelans make up the largest group of immigrants to the United States, increasing at the quickest rate. By increasing refugee resettlement, more people would have access to safe routes that would allow them to avoid a perilous voyage.
Expanding refugee resettlement is also essential to stop anti-democratic governments from using migrants and refugees as leverage. The United States is vulnerable to blackmail by authoritarian and anti-democratic countries since it continues to fail to extend resettlement options. The prospect of further immigration by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been exploited by EU bordering nations as political and economic leverage. American policymakers should be acutely aware of the weaponization of migrants against anti-migrant Western states. Foreign assistance to neighboring and sending nations has been a vital part of the U.S. migration strategy under the Biden administration.
There isn’t much proof that foreign aid alone can stop migration. Instead, funding is part of a more comprehensive policy for partners who sponsor refugees. The United States has the potential to reinstate this vital regime of protection and strengthen its migration policy. 72% of Americans favour the U.S. accepting refugees from nations where people are fleeing conflict and violence. Increasing refugee resettlement is both a necessary and wise policy decision.
Before the November midterm elections, Republican presidential candidates had generally dominated the political discourse on immigration in the United States. Two aircraft from Venezuela carrying about 50 refugees and asylum seekers touched down at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on September 14, 2022. Under the pretense that the asylum seekers would arrive in Boston, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent the planes after flying them from Texas to Florida and bringing them to Martha’s Vineyard. The aircraft was possibly the most dramatic instance of Republican governors’ recent efforts to relocate migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to northern Democrat-controlled territories.
The avarice of politicians in utilising people in their political antics has drawn much criticism. However, the government of American President Joe Biden is also failing to meet the demands of Venezuelans who are crossing the southern border. As a result of years of political repression, violence, and economic uncertainty, Venezuela now has the second-largest external displacement issue in the world, just behind Ukraine. But for the upcoming fiscal year, the government will only accept 15,000 refugees from all of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Resettlement of refugees is moving people who have already applied for asylum from one country to another, typically from one that is developing to one that is more developed and has a more robust economy. It is a component of a multi-pronged international strategy to safeguard the more than 100 million displaced people internally and externally. However, just 11,411 refugees were resettled in the United States in the fiscal year 2021, the fewest since the program’s inception in 1980. On October 3, the government reported that, much below the administration’s quota of 125,000, just 25,465 refugees had been resettled throughout the fiscal year 2022.
The Biden administration has cited the harm done to the resettlement system by the previous government of U.S. President Donald Trump, notably through significant financial cuts and staff layoffs. Even though the administration has made significant strides toward rebuilding resettlement, advocates and elected leaders from all political parties contend that the system is still gravely underfunded. The administration has conceded that meeting its objective of resettling 125,000 refugees this year will be challenging.
As I and others have shown previously, the rights of refugees and asylum seekers have suffered due to the decline in resettlement, and a global refugee protection system has also crumbled after World War II. However, it is crucial to prioritise refugee resettlement for more than just humanitarian reasons. Instead, the resettlement of refugees should be seen as an essential part of the administration’s larger migration control strategy.
Expanding refugee resettlement would first acknowledge the rise in people crossing the southern border who have fled their country due to violence and political persecution and who have few other options for safe passage. Expanding refugee resettlement is also essential to stop anti-democratic governments from using migrants and refugees as leverage to obtain political and financial concessions. The EU’s experience after the “migrant crisis” of 2015 serves as a warning for the United States. Finally, resettlement plays a crucial role in convincing our partners hosting refugees and migrants that the U.S. government is dedicated to sharing the burden of hosting, especially regarding foreign aid.
First, expanding resettlement is required to give people who are seeking asylum or refugee status because they are fleeing violence and persecution a safe and orderly path. Along with Cubans and Nicaraguans—all citizens of authoritarian nations with whom the United States does not maintain diplomatic ties—Venezuelans make up the largest group of immigrants to the United States, increasing at the quickest rate. Venezuelans who were physically present in the United States as of March 8, 2021, were granted temporary protected status (TPS) in March 2021; this excludes individuals who arrived later or were transferred to Mexico as part of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy (whereby asylum-seekers had to wait in Mexico for hearings in a U.S. immigration court). More and more Venezuelans are choosing to travel north to Mexico and the United States due to the continuous political repression in Venezuela and deteriorating economic and political conditions in neighboring nations that are housing the majority of the country’s displaced citizens under COVID-19. By increasing refugee resettlement, more people would have access to safe routes that would allow them to avoid this perilous voyage.
Second, as seen by Belarus’ and Turkey’s behavior toward Europe, the United States is vulnerable to blackmail by authoritarian and anti-democratic countries since it continues to fail to extend resettlement options. Following a sharp rise in arrivals brought on by the conflict in Syria and the unrest in Afghanistan and Northern Africa, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop further migration from Turkey in 2016. To deter smuggling, the EU also pledged to resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian who was deported back to Turkey. In reality, however, the program only resulted in the resettlement of about 28,000 Syrians by March 2021. Instead, during the past six years, the mainstay of EU migration policy has been a combination of drastically increased border enforcement, which has had terrible effects, and economic and military aid to nations like Turkey and Libya.
These regulations have a high price tag. The prospect of further immigration by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been exploited by EU bordering nations as political and economic leverage and justification for ever more anti-democratic activities. Since the 2016 agreement was reached, Turkey has regularly threatened to let refugees and migrants enter the EU to obtain help. In 2021, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko relaxed visa requirements and made it easier for migrants and refugees to try to enter the EU through Poland to persuade the EU to lift sanctions. As a result, the EU only increased penalties but has chosen to ignore the growing authoritarianism of the Polish government, which has been accused of violating human rights. As numerous analysts have noted, a critical security problem that American policymakers should be acutely aware of is the weaponization of migrants against growingly anti-migrant Western states.
Last, foreign assistance to neighboring and sending nations has been a vital part of the U.S. migration strategy under the Biden administration. This has helped to improve economic conditions and enable the local integration of migrants and refugees. In response to the Venezuelan crisis, the US has provided approximately $2.7 billion in aid since 2017. On September 22, the US announced an extra $376 million in aid to Venezuelans and local host communities. The administration has proposed spending $4 billion in Central America between fiscal years 2021 and 2024 to address the causes of migration. However, there isn’t much proof that foreign aid alone can stop migration, especially when many people move for fear of persecution and other reasons rather than just economic ones. Instead, funding is simply one component of a more comprehensive policy for partners who sponsor refugees. It also includes the growth of legal protection avenues like refugee resettlement, as the administration noted in its migratory management strategy for 2021.
Breaking commitments on resettlement puts the administration’s entire migration policy in jeopardy. Since the bulk of refugees are in developing countries with already-fragile economies, resettlement is a crucial component of sending a message to friends that the United States is willing to participate in the duty of hosting them. The protection of migrant and refugee rights in first-destination nations also depends on this.
Protecting the legal right to apply for asylum at the border and within the country, as well as creating non-refugee migration routes for immigrants desperately needed in the American labor force, are not substituted by refugee resettlement. In recent years, the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, as well as the international legal principles established for decades, have drastically degraded. The lessons from the Holocaust, during which the U.S. government turned away thousands of Jewish refugees as security threats, seem to have been forgotten. However, by increasing refugee admissions, the United States has the potential to both reinstate this vital regime of protection and strengthen its migration policy. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in August, 72% of Americans favour the United States accepting refugees from nations where people are fleeing conflict and violence. Further evidence of the importance of refugees to the American economy and society comes from extensive studies. Increasing refugee resettlement is both a necessary and wise policy decision as the administration and the rest of the globe struggle with unprecedented levels of displacement.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network