Will Biden’s Plan to Resettle Afghans Transform the U.S. Refugee Program?

Will Biden’s Plan to Resettle Afghans Transform the U.S. Refugee Program?

December 13, 20213 min read

Among the high-profile anti-immigration policies that characterized the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency was a dramatic contraction in refugee resettlement in the United States. President Biden has expressed support for restoring U.S. leadership, and increased commitment is needed to help support the more than 80 million people worldwide displaced by political violence, persecution, and climate change, says UConn expert Kathryn Libal.

As Libal writes, with co-author and fellow UConn professor Scott Harding, in a recent article for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the rapid evacuation of more than 60,000 Afghans pushed the Biden administration to innovate by expanding community-based refugee resettlement and creating a private sponsorship program. 

But more resources are needed to support programs that were severely undermined in previous years and to support community-based programs that help refugees through the resettlement process: 

Community sponsorship also encourages local residents to “invest” in welcoming refugees. Under existing community sponsorship efforts, volunteers often have deep ties to their local communities—critical for helping refugees secure housing, and gain access to employment, education, and health care. As these programs expand, efforts to connect refugees to community institutions and stakeholders, which are crucial to help facilitate their social integration, may be enhanced. As Chris George, Executive Director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven, Connecticut, has observed, “It’s better for the refugee family to have a community group working with them that knows the schools and knows where to shop and knows where the jobs are.”

As more local communities take responsibility for sponsoring refugee families, the potential for a more durable resettlement program may be enhanced. In the face of heightened polarization of refugee and immigration policies, community sponsorship programs can also foster broad-based involvement in refugee resettlement. In turn, greater levels of community engagement can help challenge opposition toward and misinformation about refugees and create greater public support for the idea of refugee resettlement.

Yet these efforts are also fraught with significant challenges. Sponsor circle members may have limited capacity or skills to navigate the social welfare system, access health care services, or secure affordable housing for refugees. If group members lack familiarity with the intricacies of US immigration law, helping Afghans designated as “humanitarian parolees” attain asylum status may prove daunting. Without adequate training and ongoing support from resettlement agencies and caseworkers, community volunteers may experience “burn out” from these various responsibilities.

Finally, “successful” private and community sponsorship efforts risk providing justification to the arguments of those in support of the privatization of the USRAP and who claim that the government’s role in resettlement should be limited. Opponents of refugee resettlement could argue that community groups are more effective than the existing public–private resettlement model and seek to cut federal funding and involvement in resettlement. Such action could ultimately limit the overall number of refugees the United States admits in the future.  December 11 - Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

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An associate professor of social work and human rights, Kathryn Libal is the director of UConn's Human Rights Institute and is an expert on human rights, refugee resettlement, and social welfare. She is available to speak with media – click on her icon now to arrange an interview.

Connect with:
  • Kathryn Libal, Ph.D.
    Kathryn Libal, Ph.D. Director, Human Rights Institute and Associate Professor, Social Work & Human Rights

    Professor Libal researches human rights norms and practices, including the ability to secure adequate food and housing.

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