For generations, the United States has been a place of safe haven for people seeking freedom and safety. In 1980, Congress passed the Refugee Act, codifying basic refugee protections into law and enshrining a global commitment to asylum which emerged from the tragedy of the Holocaust. In the decades since then, hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylees have been granted status, strengthening communities around the nation, contributing economically, and enriching the national fabric.
But in the 21st century, a global displacement crisis is affecting nearly every country in the world. Multiple nations across the Western Hemisphere have become destabilized due to a wide variety of factors, including rising authoritarianism, political assassinations, natural disasters, powerful transnational criminal organizations, climate change, and the global socioeconomic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The end result is humanitarian migration at levels far above what the 20th-century system can handle.
Presidential administrations of both parties have failed to meet this challenge. Instead of an orderly, humane, and consistent approach to humanitarian protection and border management, we have been left with a dysfunctional system that serves the needs of no one: not the government, border communities, or asylum seekers themselves.
Crucially, there is still hope. Restoring our humanitarian protection systems and breaking the cycle of crises and crackdowns is not only possible, but within reach. However, to do so, we need a major shift in thinking and policymaking. Politicians must abandon a fantasy of short-term solutionism and acknowledge that only sustained investment over a period of time can realistically address these 21st century challenges. Therefore, short-term action must focus on establishing a viable path towards a better system. In the long term, with significant investment, we can create a flexible, orderly, and safe asylum process.