On February 12, 2021, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden asked Congress for a mid-year emergency increase in refugee admissions to address urgent humanitarian concerns that were ignored by the standing Trump refugee policy.
In our community in Dearborn we were hopeful to finally welcome refugees again and see families reunite after four years of discrimination under Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim reign.
Last year, Trump issued what was the lowest number of refugee admissions goal in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Only 15,000 refugees were to be admitted this year. In his Report to Congress, Biden promised that he would increase refugee admissions to 62,500 this fiscal year — a great relief to the many refugees who were travel-ready to come to the U.S., including to Michigan. But when Biden failed to actually sign the order, more than 700 of them saw their flights canceled.
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Our community is all too familiar with our hopes being stripped away from us due to arbitrary and cruel policies issued by a hostile administration. When he finally signed the order on April 17, Biden initially kept President Donald Trump’s historically low admissions number of 15,000 in place. It was only after the outcry from refugee advocates that the Administration backtracked and claimed they were still raising the number at a later date. On May 3, over two months after issuing his initial proposal, President Biden finally raised the admissions goal to the originally stated 62,500, but not without qualifying that “we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year.”
We are asking: why not?
Over 35,000 refugees have already been interviewed and approved and are prepared to travel. Tens of thousands more, including family members of refugees in the United States, are in the pipeline but their cases have not been moving forward due to bureaucratic and COVID-related delays and excessive vetting restrictions. What is required is the will from the agencies to get these cases travel-ready and innovative solutions like remote video interviews and community sponsorship models. There is no good reason these people should continue to languish in camps and families continue to be separated from their loved ones. But there are many good reasons to bring them here:
Refugees are a vital part of the Dearborn community, in which ACCESS is based. In fact, after the 2010 Census revealed population decline in the state of Michigan, an influx of resettled refugees contributed significantly to our state’s bounce-back. Most resettled refugees in the Southeast Michigan area, many of whom are from Iraq, are of working age. A recent report on American Community Survey data found that regional expenditures on refugee resettlement created between $12.2 million and $15.7 million of added value annually, along with hundreds of jobs, $117.4 million in household spending, and between $70 million and $90 million in economic benefits from refugee entrepreneurship. The high job retention rate for refugees is exceptionally high, showing the commitment of refugees to giving back to their communities.
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While the refugee communities in Southeast Michigan demonstrate impressive resilience, their stories are not heroic. Rather, they are the result of steadfast effort on the part of the public and private sectors, as well as the communities they serve. When the Trump administration gutted the refugee admissions program, cutting funding from refugee resettlement and lowering the refugee admissions cap, they threatened this value chain and the benefits it created.
Our communities are still suffering when families cannot reunite and we cannot welcome refugees affected by war and violence. In fact, many direct social service programs from which the general community benefits, such as the Survivors of Torture program, rely upon refugee admissions quotas being met. In the absence of this, our communities become only more vulnerable.
We urge you, President Biden, to follow through on your ambitions and admit as many refugees as possible, fund community-based organizations to shoulder some of the refugee resettlement case load and ensure that families can reunite with their loved ones in celebration.
Maha Friejj is executive director of ACCESS, the. Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.