From the CEO, 23 November 2020

24 November 2020
Office of CEO Good News Thought Leadership SDG

From the CEO

Cath Scarth, AMES Australia CEO

US to return to the community of resettlement nations

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

These words by poet the Emma Lazarus’ underscore the story of how modern America was built by the efforts, resilience and sweat of millions of migrants and refugees.

They are part of a sonnet called The New Colossus which was written as part of efforts to raise funds with which to build the Statue of Liberty

The statue became a beacon to people from all over the world seeking economic opportunity or safety from persecution and oppression.

Until four years ago America remained a beacon for people seeking refuge and safety. In 2016, the US resettled almost 100,000 refugees and an average of about 95,000 since 1980. This year, that figure was just more than 11,000 – figure decided upon before the advent of COVID-19.

Like Australia, the US has benefitted economically, culturally and spiritually from accepting migrants and refugees from diverse background. This is the nation that gave us black roots music, the hamburger and the burrito - drawing on the rich cultural traditions of its migrants.

Since the results of the US election have become clear, President elect Joe Biden has said he will reinstate the large immigration and refugee programs of the past several decades, setting a cap on refugees entering the US of 125,000.

President elect Biden campaigned on a plan that will see a reversal of many current policies. This includes stopping construction on the border wall, eliminating the practice of separating immigrant families at the US border and ending current bans on people from Muslim-majority countries traveling to the US.

It will also see a reversal of restrictions around granting asylum and temporary protected status as well as rises in the number of refugees accepted and more resources for newly arrived migrants.

To all of us working in the humanitarian sector, it will be wonderful to see the US return to its leadership and exemplar role in resettling refugees; and especially so as the global human displacement crisis continues to grow and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

At a time when anti-black racism, xenophobia and immigration bans are issues in the US and elsewhere, Lazarus’ poem has even more resonance in that it was written at a time when Europe’s empires powers were dividing up Africa among themselves.

It sits at the intersection of European colonialism and American immigration policy.

That Kamela Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father will soon become America’s Vice President, should remind us how far we’ve come but also, given the past four years, how hard won this progress on tolerance and inclusion has been and how much it needs to be protected.

23 November 2020