Tomorrow Joe Biden and Kamala Harris become President and Vice President of the United States. For the International Institute of New England, the change in administration is a welcome relief. At IINE, we look forward to working with the new administration in fulfilling its pledge of restoring America as “a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
I took the helm at IINE in the run-up to the 2016 election—a challenging time for an organization supporting refugees and immigrants, more challenging still for those we serve. In the intervening years, we have seen our clients and their communities vilified in public discourse, categorically cut off from critical services and assistance, barred from opportunities for advancement, and denied—often with great cruelty—their legal right to seek safety and to reunite with loved ones.
While the value our country places on their talents, their sacrifices, and their resilience may have atrophied in recent years, the United States has never stopped being a nation of immigrants. Refugees and immigrants continue to persevere as pioneers and entrepreneurs, the lifeblood of our economy and society.
The Biden administration will be setting a new agenda and tone for our country. As an organization with over 100 years’ experience serving new Americans, here are some things we would like to see prioritized:
An immigration system that treats immigrants like people. Over the past four years, over 400 executive actions have undermined and dismantled established pathways for legal immigration, naturalization, and humanitarian refuge. On top of religiously—and racially—selective admissions policies, this includes the repudiation of an internationally protected right of asylum, characterized by expulsions en masse of people fleeing violence, along with the state-sanctioned separation of vulnerable families and the incarceration of their children.
IINE’s legal specialists have had to sit across from a refugee mother and tell her that no, it will not be possible to apply for her husband and oldest daughter to join her in safety. That yes, at one point it had been possible, but the government decided that anyone from her country—even her family—presents too big a threat to the U.S. Our caseworkers have met with unaccompanied children and followed up with referrals to connect them with psychosocial services, not just to process their experiences of flight from their home country, but also from detainment once they reached the U.S.
We ask our leaders to think about these and tens of thousands of other experiences of those who work in immigrant-serving organizations as they develop new policies and laws.
Relief policies that reflect immigrant contributions to our country. Nearly 70 percent of all immigrants in the U.S. workforce hold essential jobs – performing work that keeps our communities, not to mention our country, running. Yet, many essential workers must make an impossible choice between earning a paycheck and protecting their health. At the same time, along with other members of the BIPOC community, immigrants are facing extreme economic hardship arising from the COVID-19 crisis, further exacerbating longstanding structural inequalities. Both the hospitality and food service industry—major employers of immigrants—have been devastated, while public relief efforts exclude some classes of immigrants who are facing spiking rates of joblessness, food insecurity, and housing instability.
We will continue providing private, emergency assistance to families facing homelessness and food insecurity, but we implore the Biden administration and Congress to pass measures that provide more resources to our clients and to eliminate public charge rules that have made many too afraid to access public benefits.
Pathways to Citizenship. As an organization with a rapidly growing Immigration Legal Services program that helps many immigrants become new Americans each year, we support the efforts of the new President and Congress to make it easier and faster for people to become U.S. citizens. We are thrilled to learn of the Biden administration’s plan to unveil a comprehensive immigration bill on day one that aims to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the United States without legal status.
Demonstrated commitment to inclusion and welcome. The violence on January 6 was a blight on our democracy, demonstrated profound disrespect for the U.S. Constitution, and was a frightening event for many IINE clients, particularly refugees. Resettlement represents reaching a final place of permanent safety after years, sometimes decades, of insecurity and upheaval. No matter the challenges ahead in their new lives, at least they are finally free from the fear of violence and persecution. This has been the long-held promise of resettlement in the United States—once a given, but now requiring concerted effort to uphold. While we cannot undo the sustained damage to the resettlement program overnight, we enthusiastically support the new President’s proposal to admit 125,000 refugees to the U.S. each year.
It will not be easy to undo the lasting, human impact of the past four years. Reconstituting a more humane immigration system is a long-term project that requires sustained political will and the ongoing engagement of IINE’s supporters and others who care deeply about our nation’s historic commitment to welcome and embrace talent from around the world.
We urge you to join IINE as we support every effort of the new administration and Congress to treat new Americans in a dignified manner that reflects our nation’s best ideals.
President & CEO