Members of Congress have introduced numerous pieces of legislation in recent years related to refugees, asylum seekers, and other populations of migrants seeking protection in the United States. These bills were drafted in reaction to dramatic events within the United States, at its borders, and around the world. For example, roughly 400,000 children traveling alone and mothers with children have arrived at the southern US border since 2013, many seeking protection from organized crime, gang violence, and threats of human trafficking. Similarly, more than a million refugees from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia sought to reach safety on the European continent in 2015 alone. Terrorist attacks fueled attempts to curtail the US commitment to offer protection to those fleeing persecution, even when those attacks had no connection to refugees or only tenuous links. And yet existing US law has been left virtually unchanged throughout this tumultuous period. This article describes the significant attempts to enact legislation related to refugees and international migrants since 2013 and examines the reasons why those attempts have not succeeded. It also describes American attitudes toward refugees and assesses whether those attitudes affected the fate of legislation.
* Tara Magner is Director of the Chicago Commitment at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The views expressed herein are solely the author’s, expressed in her personal capacity, and do not reflect the views of the MacArthur Foundation.