The 116th Congress: What will it Mean for Refugee Issues?

04 December 2018

As the 116th Congress prepares to be sworn in this coming January, they will be tasked with addressing the needs of refugees and asylum seekers here at home and abroad. As the number of refugees globally increases to unprecedented levels, the new Congress will have to produce bipartisan policy solutions that match the needs of the forcibly displaced around the world.

Part of the new Freshman class includes members of Congress with personal experience of the plight of global refugees and asylum seekers. A former Somali refugee, Ilhan Omar, became one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress and will represent Minnesota’s fifth district. “I talk all the time about the eight-year-old me and all the eight-year-olds who are living in their camps,” Omar recently commented. “I hope my victory gives them hope.” Joe Neguse is the son of Eritrean refugees who resettled in the U.S. and will be representing Colorado’s second district. Fighting for immigration rights has been one of his key policy issues, “As the son of immigrants to this country who were given a shot at the American dream, I’m running because that dream is under assault now as never before.”

The new Congress, which includes these diverse perspectives from members of Congress with refugee backgrounds, will have to come together to address pressing issues related to foreign assistance, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Maintaining funding for the U.S. State & Foreign Budget will be crucial for protecting humanitarian assistance to these vulnerable populations. Refugees and other forcibly displaced populations need emergency assistance to thrive and overcome obstacles. Beyond basic assistance, the U.S. needs to continue investing in refugee education, an important means of economic and social empowerment. Many of the newly elected members of Congress have expressed a commitment to working with international organizations and governments to protect displaced populations and those affected by disaster and conflict.

The 116th Congress will also have to tackle refugee resettlement at a time of record low refugee admissions and a recently announced cap of 30,000 refugee admissions in FY19. Congress will have to demonstrate U.S. leadership in administering the resettlement program to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees are offered an opportunity to create new lives in the U.S.

Crucially, the new Congress faces the critical question of how to protect asylum seekers at the Southern border. The migrant caravan, which includes victims of violence and persecution, necessitates the protection of the rights of those seeking asylum in the U.S. With a variety of policy proposals across party lines, the new Congress will need to work towards a solution that protects the right to asylum, maintains a system of due process, and upholds the key American values of dignity and respect.

As the new legislators of the 116th Congress settle into their roles in the coming year, they will have to work together with incumbents to address these issues vital to humanitarian efforts and refugee protection. In a time of global conflict and heightened displacement, American leadership on these issues remains critical.

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