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U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Could Expand Under A Biden Administration

A man waves from the steps of his house while his family stands on the front lawn.
Ted S. Warren
Associated Press
Sophonie Bizimana, center, a permanent U.S. resident who is a refugee from Congo, waves from the steps of his home in Kirkland, Wash., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, as four of his children and a granddaughter look on.

President-elect Joe Biden has said his administration would raise the historically-low cap on the number of refugees allowed in the country.

Under the Trump administration, refugee admissions to the United States has reached an all-time low.

President-elect Joe Biden, however, has said he plans to reverse many of President Donald Trump’s policies, including raising the cap on refugee resettlement.

Last month, The Trump administration announced no more than 15,000 refugees would be allowed in the country during the 2021 fiscal year. Biden has said he would raise that cap to 125,000 refugees.

Immigration policy experts with the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said recently that a Biden administration has the opportunity to revamp U.S. immigration policies, including the refugee resettlement program.

For example, the program could include more refugees from certain countries.

"A new administration would send very important signals to the world, to the country and would possibly have the ability then to allocate significantly larger numbers of refugee admissions to the Western Hemisphere, particularly to Central American countries," said Doris Meissner, senior fellow and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute.

Doing so could help reduce the number of people trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and setting out on long and dangerous journeys.

“One of the things we’ll be looking for from the Biden administration is its intention to establish refugee processing closer to the places from which people are fleeing,” Meissner said.

One of the challenges facing the U.S. refugee admissions program is that a number of resettlement agencies have been affected by budget cuts.

Meissner said that means those networks would have to be rebuilt and that could take some time.

You can read more about what immigration could look like under a Biden administration in this policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.