Where are we now? How are the lives of refugees and immigrants different in 2021?
What changes has the Biden administration made to the refugee program?
In January 2021, the Biden administration released an executive order stating their intention to raise the refugee admissions ceiling (the Presidential Determination) from 15,000 refugees to 62,500 refugees for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30, 2021.
The devastating reality for refugees and families awaiting their arrival is that the administration did not sign the Presidential Determination, a document required to allow refugees to arrive, for two months. More than 700 refugees had their flights to the US cancelled due to this failure. This op-ed from The Washington Post examines how the Biden administration has turned its back on its promise to rebuild the refugee program.
On Friday, April 16th, the administration finally signed a Presidential Determination; however, they changed course and maintained the Trump-era cap of 15,000 refugees. Thankfully, the administration is lifting regional exclusions that were in place under the Trump administration. Removing those exclusions means that many Muslim and African refugees are now eligible again to travel.
UPDATE: Later on April 16th, the White House issued a press release to clarify that they may still raise the fiscal year’s refugee admissions cap past 15,000 refugees by May 15th.
Refugee Council USA provides ongoing updates about their coalition’s advocacy efforts surrounding refugee and immigration programs. Here is their letter to the administration. KRM’s national office, Church World Service (CWS), has a statement about the impact of this new Presidential Determination.
When will we in Kentucky begin to see more refugees resettling in our state?
KRM Lexington and Louisville offices have continued to welcome refugees under the Trump-era refugee admissions goal of 15,000 people for the country.
Now that the Biden administration signed the new Presidential Determination on April 16th, we expect to see an increase in families arriving. There are families overseas ready to travel, and we are ready to welcome them.
KRM hopes to see a marked increase in families arriving by the end of 2021. As the program rebuilds, Kentucky will likely remain in the top states for resettlement. The state’s potential for higher resettlement rates is based on the capacity of the Louisville and Lexington offices, the robust community support available in our state, and the high number of refugees who want to reunite with family members already living in Kentucky.
Why has Kentucky become a top state for resettlement and secondary migration?
Kentucky’s low cost of living, availability of jobs, and availability of housing for large family sizes has made the state one of the top locations for resettlement. Additionally, there are three refugee resettlement agencies operating in Kentucky, including KRM.
“Secondary migration” is when a refugee is resettled in one state within the US and then later chooses to move to a different state. After resettling in the US, refugees have the right to move freely. Families who move to Kentucky from other states can sometimes qualify for services and programs through KRM’s offices. Newcomers tell KRM that what is critical in their decision to move here is to have community support from family, friends, and/or others who also share their life experience as refugees or who are from their home country.
What has happened with the Muslim Travel Ban?
The Biden administration ended the Muslim Travel Ban. Revisit the ban’s timeline from ACLU Washington to see the different iterations of the Muslim Travel Ban and the countries included. There are Kentuckians, including KRM clients, waiting for their family members to arrive from countries that were restricted due to the Muslim Travel Ban. The countries on the most recent ban included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen; non-Muslim majority countries added included North Korea and Venezuela. Anyone seeking legal advice can contact KRM’s immigration legal services team.
Are Cubans still arriving in the US and in Kentucky?
Cubans continue to enter the US and to make their way to Kentucky to build a life here. KRM’s Louisville office has seen very different experiences for Cubans who have come into the US in 2021. For example, some families cross the border and are held and released into the US. Others are expelled into Mexico. Some are going through the asylum process at the border; others are having to apply for asylum once they arrive in Kentucky and begin receiving services. Last year, Cubans were spending extensive periods of time in detention facilities.
Most of the Cubans served by KRM in recent months have spent time — sometimes years — waiting in Mexico. Like many asylum-seekers, Cubans are facing protracted waits for the employment authorization needed to begin employment in the US.
What is happening at the US-Mexico border with asylum seekers?
Families, adults, and children continue to seek safety by crossing the US-Mexico border, especially because of a traditional seasonal increase. The federal government has begun to process the 25,000 active Remain in Mexico cases of asylum-seekers. Earlier this year, people living in pop-up tent camps in Texas faced frigid temperatures along with the rest of Texans. KRM is already serving asylum-seekers who arrived this year and had been living in Mexico for multiple years waiting for admittance into the US.
What is happening with detention and deportation?
Detention facilities are overcrowded, as detailed in this New York Times piece, and the US is detaining a growing number of unaccompanied children. The US is seeking to build and open more facilities to detain these children.
The Biden administration, under Title 42 invoked by the Trump administration, continues to deport people, “because of the supposed health risk they posed during the Covid pandemic.” This has included a record number of Haitian immigrants. Despite the administration stating that all families should be expelled, many have been able to stay in the United States. The Guardian piece linked above explains more.
What are plans for comprehensive immigration reform legislation?
The House of Representatives passed two immigration measures in March this year. Both were to provide pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but advocates do not expect passage in the Senate. The bills included children and adults who were brought to the US as children, people under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and farm workers. The Roll Call examines how immigration measures could be included in future discussions in Congress.
What is happening with people who are in the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program?
“Dreamers,” or people who qualify for the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program because they were brought to the US as children, were included in one of the House bills seeking a pathway to citizenship. Read about the potential future for these legislative efforts and about one Dreamer’s story in The Washington Post.
What is happening with people who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?
A bill passed by the House included a pathway to citizenship for people who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Earlier this year, the US designated Burma and Venezuela for TPS. Pew Research has more information about these protections. KRM’s immigration legal services teams in both Lexington and Louisville are available to provide services to people seeking help with applications or renewals of TPS. Learn more.
What is happening with the citizenship exam changes?
Under the Trump administration, the US changed the citizenship exam to include new questions and rephrased questions. Immigration advocates stated that this would make the exam more confusing for applicants. The Biden administration reversed this move and restored the existing exam. KRM continues to offer virtual classes to help applicants prepare for the correct exam.
How is the pandemic affecting newly-arriving families? Families who have been here?
Newly-arriving families through the resettlement program receive Covid-19 tests before flying to the US and they quarantine at home when they arrive. For immigrants coming through the Southern border from Cuba, Central American countries, and other countries, they are faced with increased risk to Covid-19 as they seek asylum and safety. As with all families who flee from danger, asylum-seekers are risking their lives despite the pandemic.
Refugees and immigrants who have already lived in Kentucky have adapted to the pandemic alongside us all. The essential services workforce in Louisville and Lexington includes many KRM clients; these workers remain exposed to Covid-19 in order to continue paying their bills and providing for their families. Immigrant students in Jefferson and Fayette County Public Schools also continued schooling through Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI). Throughout the pandemic, both KRM offices continue to participate in education and outreach efforts to keep immigrant communities informed about Covid-19, testing sites, and vaccination opportunities.
How is KRM currently delivering services to refugees and immigrants?
The pandemic has changed how we work, but KRM is still connected to the families we serve. Staff are rotating shifts in the office and serving clients in various ways. Some departments, such as the medical case management team, have continued providing critical in-person services to ensure people get access to the medical care they need. During this past year, all other departments were able to provide remote services by phone or to hold socially distant, masked meetings with clients. To support families with remote learning, staff helped set up computers, Internet, and other tech access. Interpreters in our community continue to be critical to the delivery of these services.
How is KRM conducting education classes?
Classes for English as a Second Language and citizenship preparation continue to be held online. Staff help students register and access class on the internet or by phone. It isn’t always easy, but staff and students are adapting and making it work. KRM is monitoring rates for Covid-19 and vaccinations to assess when to return to in-person classes.
When will KRM open its offices to clients and the public?
KRM does not have a date set for re-opening offices to walk-in services or the public. We continue to monitor Covid-19 rates and vaccination opportunities. Some services to clients are offered in-office by appointment only. In the near future, community partners will be returning to the building to host on-site school registration for students.
We look forward to the days when we can more safely gather together in our building! KRM’s offices have always been bustling with people in the past, and we know that vibrancy will return. At this time, please know that all visits are by appointment only.
How can Kentuckians support refugees and immigrants right now?
There are still many opportunities to offer hospitality to newcomers. You can donate funds, give furniture or household items, collect school supplies, hire a newcomer, rent to a family, or create a co-sponsor team. Learn about these opportunities on our site’s Get Involved page. Please note that we are not currently meeting with community members who visit the office without an appointment.
What can KRM supporters expect in the next year or two?
KRM hopes that Kentucky and the US can soon return to welcoming more refugees and immigrants to our community. Asylum-seekers will also continue to come to Kentucky to look for safety in a new home. As an agency, KRM has been capable of serving large numbers of families in the past. We aim to return to this higher capacity in Louisville and Lexington. Our work at KRM has never only been about “initial” resettlement. As the immigration landscape changes, KRM will continue to serve and advocate for and with newcomers who are looking for peace and trying to rebuild.
No matter what the future holds, your support for refugees and immigrants is critical. Together, we’ll continue making Kentucky a welcoming and beautiful home for refugees and immigrants.
Thank you to Migratory Notes for their weekly roundup of immigration news, which provided many of the sources featured here.