Many comparisons have been made in the past few weeks between the evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese from Saigon in 1975 and the exit from Afghanistan in 2021. Although many of these comparisons are valid, the commentaries miss a more apt point of comparison—the global response to the flight of Indochinese refugees in 1979. The refugee crisis had been growing since 1978 when the communist government in Hanoi increased internal relocations and expulsions of ethnic Chinese citizens from its territory. By the end of 1979, more than 450,000 ethnic Chinese had left Vietnam. They were joined by political prisoners, family members of those who had fled in 1975, and others opposed to the governing regime. At the same time, departures from Laos had also increased, as did movements to the Thai-Cambodian border after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge government and the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam.
In the context of the US return to the Paris Accord on Climate Change, President Joseph Biden issued an executive order (EO) requiring a multi-agency report on climate change and its impact on human mobility. The report is to focus on forced migration, internal displacement, and planned relocation. Among the issues the EO stipulates will be addressed are the international security implications of climate-related movement; options and mechanisms to protect and, if necessary, resettle individuals displaced by climate change; proposals for the use of US foreign assistance to reduce the negative impacts of climate change; and opportunities to work collaboratively with others to respond to these movements. The order is a welcome step towards providing greater protection in the face of escalating impacts of climate change. It could also become a blueprint for other countries.
States across the country are tackling an equity issue in the tax code by breaking from federal eligibility standards for their state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs). Specifically, states are taking it upon themselves to end the exclusion of taxpayers who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). ITINs are personal tax processing numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security number. They are primarily issued to undocumented immigrants, although they are also issued to certain lawfully present immigrants. Millions of people pay taxes with ITINs every year. Together ITIN-filers paid $23.6 billion in taxes in 2015. In less than a year, five states have successfully passed legislation to end the exclusion of these tax filers from their EITCs.
On Friday, April 16, President Joseph Biden issued a long-awaited “Memorandum for the Secretary of State on the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021.” The Emergency Presidential Determination (PD) failed to deliver on the president’s promise to raise the ceiling on refugee admissions from the historically low level of 15,000 set by President Trump to 62,500 during this fiscal year, and it caused more obfuscation than illumination of the president’s goals. The White House’s attempt to correct itself hours later led to still more confusion.
The number of unaccompanied children and asylum-seekers crossing the US-Mexico border in search of protection has increased in recent weeks. The former president, his acolytes, and both extremist and mainstream media have characterized this situation as a “border crisis,” a self-inflicted wound by the Biden administration, and even a failure of US asylum policy. It is none of these things. Rather, it is a response to compounding pressures, most prominently the previous administration’s evisceration of US asylum and anti-trafficking policies and procedures, and the failure to address the conditions that are displacing residents of the Northern Triangle states of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), as well as Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and other countries. In Central America, these conditions include:
One of the most pernicious aspects of the changes to the asylum processes promulgated under the Trump administration is substituting the first-in, first-out (FIFO) policy for the last-in, first-out (LIFO) one. Individuals who had already been waiting for years for an asylum interview have to wait even longer. Until they obtain asylum, individuals cannot petition for visas for their immediate relatives who are often still facing danger. In many ways, this is the “other family separation” crisis, but it remains unseen by most policy makers and the general public.
In an Executive Order signed on February 3, 2021, President Joe Biden promised a thorough review of the US refugee admissions program as well as the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) under which Afghans and Iraqis endangered by their association with the US government are admitted. He also announced that the United States will resettle 125,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2022 and consult with Congress to increase this year’s admissions quota as a down payment. These promises offer hope to thousands of refugees who have been awaiting resettlement, often for years and still more often in precarious settings. Fulfilling this promise will not come easily, however. The new administration has scant time to rebuild a program that the Trump administration sought to destroy.
Nadra and Ghazel first came to North America as refugees. Today, they participate in their communities as mothers, teachers, learners, and leaders. Although much of the literature on refugee resettlement focuses on refugee-serving agencies, refugee women can have a profound impact on fellow refugees in their new home communities. Interviews from 2017 and 2019 with Nadra and Ghazel about their post-resettlement experiences reveal insight into both the nature and effects of moral agency under constraint. The constraints refugee women encounter in the United States operate like a downward-turning spiral; with each twist of the “spiral,” a new obstacle appears that makes overcoming subsequent obstacles all the more daunting. However, Nadra’s and Ghazel’s narratives indicate that acts of moral agency—characterized by hopeful risk, holistic care, and future-oriented imagination—can reverse the direction of the spiral by lowering barriers to integration and expanding opportunities for refugee women, their families, and their communities to thrive.
This paper highlights the importance of legal orientation, screening, and representation to the US immigration system. It proposes that a new administration facilitate legal representation in order to establish a fairer and more efficient removal adjudication system and to place more immigrants on a path to permanent residence and citizenship. As is well-documented, legal assistance can:
- Improve the ability of immigrants to identify and articulate their claims in removal proceedings and produce better-informed case outcomes.
- Increase the efficiency and contribute to the integrity of the removal adjudication system.
- Lead to better-prepared applications for immigration benefits, and thus a more just and efficient legal immigration system.
- Place more non-citizens on a path to permanent residence and naturalization by identifying their potential eligibility for immigration benefits or relief, and, in some cases, their existing US citizenship.
Legal representation and expertise can also contribute to resolving some of the substantial problems that afflict the US immigration system, such as lengthy court and asylum backlogs. In addition, it can identify and help to correct legal and factual errors by immigration adjudicators, and abuses by enforcement officers and private contractors.
The paper’s first section describes federal legal orientation and assistance programs for non-citizens in removal proceedings. The second section discusses the need for large-scale legal screening and representation of US undocumented residents, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries. Its third section examines the proliferation of universal representation programs—supported by states, localities, and private funders—for non-citizens in removal proceedings before an immigration judge, and in summary removal processes administered by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The paper concludes with a series of administrative measures that a new administration could take in its first year to strengthen and expand legal representation. It also outlines longer-term policy recommendations that would require legislation.