Joe Biden agrees that the U.S. needs refugees… but wants to limit to 125,000 per year

“America Needs Refugees” (NYT):

The statute became the basis for the successful resettlement of more than three million refugees escaping violence and persecution. The country can take pride in that sustained humanitarianism, which has also made the United States stronger.

His first executive order, in January 2017, indefinitely suspended the resettlement of Syrian refugees, froze resettlement admissions and barred entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. Later that year, Mr. Trump announced that he was capping refugee admissions at 45,000, — less than half of the 110,000 the year before under President Barack Obama. It was the first time that the ceiling was below 67,000.

A former widget in the Refugee Industrial Complex is now getting a paycheck from the Refugee Industrial Complex:

Marwa Al Ibrahim, a refugee from Iraq, now works as the integration program supervisor at Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth. Ms. Al Ibrahim worked as a translator for a French news agency in Baghdad. Her family was targeted in a car bombing that nearly killed her father. After the attack, the family applied for refugee status in 2008. In 2014, they were finally resettled in Fort Worth. Resettlement gave them a chance to be safe at last.

An entire ecosystem works together to support refugees like Ms. Al Ibrahim. Resettlement agencies partner with faith communities, volunteer networks, hospitals and employers in cities all over the country, to provide them with basic needs like housing, medical care and job skills. They help with immigration and legal services, cultural orientation, and trauma-informed mental health care. It is the unlikeliest thing — a bureaucratic program laced with good will and hope.

With more Syrians living here, we could be having more and better protests:

The Trump administration’s destruction of the refugee resettlement program is too important to ignore. I keep thinking of the Syrian artist in Idlib Province who painted a mural of George Floyd in June. It was especially poignant to see support for the Black Lives Matter movement coming out of Idlib, the last region of Syria where rebels resist Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Syrians are still barred from entering the United States.

There is hope:

If elected, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged to end the “vile Muslim ban” on his first day in office. He plans to set the admissions cap at 125,000 refugees and “raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values and the unprecedented global need.”

The question for today… We know that low-skill immigrants make America great/rich. We know that low-skill refugee immigrants make America even greater if not, perhaps, even richer than non-refugee low-skill immigrants. Why is it rational to have a limit of 125,000 per year? If we are morally obligated to accept people who claim refugee status, isn’t it immoral to have any kind of limit? If immigrant refugees make us better off, isn’t it irrational, on a purely selfish basis, to have any kind of limit?


26 thoughts on “Joe Biden agrees that the U.S. needs refugees… but wants to limit to 125,000 per year

  1. Technically, any increase in debt + welfare spending counts as an increase to the GDP, so the country is “richer”, which makes a nice talking point. The downside is only revealed when GDP per capita or median wages are measured. But thats beyond the analytic+math skills of 90% of journalists and politicians. They frequently confuse debt and deficits, think a billion$ is enough to give everyone in America a million$ each, and wonder if the island of Guam would tip over if too many people stand on one side.

  2. As usual Phil you ignore the upside from immigration. Among those Syrians is no doubt another Rashida Thalib or Ilhan Omar or even a young Sandy Cortez, who we can bring to America and nurture in order that they can teach us their enlightened ideas, for example “white privilege” and how the 6 million Jews in America, less than 2% of the population, control our politics through their “Benjamins.” Some people think that once you step on the magic soil you lose your ancient wisdom, but Rashida Thalib and Ilhan Omar show the error in that thinking. And isn’t there a pretty good chance that these courageous woman having made their way to the top that one of these refugees will also figure out that striking out at the Jews and the privileged white folk is a good strategy for elected office?

  3. It has been interesting to watch this blog evolve over the years. The content growing more bitter and conservative each year, the turning point seeming to be marked by a years long crusade and obsession with divorce. It’s now graduated to a quasi intellectual version of Tucker Carlson or Rush Limbaugh. I have a theory that as prostates enlarge, rabid conservatism accelerates almost to the point of absurdity. Perhaps there’s some kind of chemical change that causes this.

    • SenorP: Well, the old saying is “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

      But I don’t know why you’re picking on this post. I point out that restrictions on low-skill immigration are irrational given our faith in the benefits to all Americans of low-skill immigration. In essence, therefore, I’m arguing for unlimited low-skill immigration. That’s not an example of “rabid conservatism”, is it? (white BLM protesters are not “conservative”, are they? They are advocates for increased low-skill immigration, presumably on the theory that Black Americans should be able to choose their statues while they are replaced in the workforce by Hispanic and Asian immigrants. The original post’s advocacy for unlimited low-skill refugee immigration, rather than the arbitrary limit of 125,000 per year, would be an acceptable point of view at a BLM protest, no?)

    • SenorP: If you can stick with the original topic, maybe you can explain to us how it is moral and/or rational to limit refugee immigration to 125,000 per year, as Mr. Biden proposes.

    • It is called wisdom. I think Phil’s point is if you can put a number limit on immigration then it isn’t the pure moral good it is sold as.
      Ask a Lexingtonian how many Somali refugees the town could absorb and still be the Lexington they call home. Once they pick a number, any number, they are admitting not all people are equally, well, umm, I’ll just say nice. A number on immigration is an admission that not everyone in the world is equally nice. And you aren’t supposed to think that, never mind typing it, or gasp speaking it.

    • @Senorpablo wrote “the turning point seeming to be marked by a years long crusade and obsession with divorce.” Blue star for attempting to enforce the cone of silence about utterly absurd, terribly unjust, highly destructive family law. Family law is a case study in ideological corruption and men’s moral cowardice. Three cheers to Philip for his courageous, stunning work addressing that topic!

    • Beth: Thanks for the kind words. Senorpablo says that I am “bitter” and have fallen prey to “rabid conservatism”. Yet he is the one who is complaining that things were better in the good old days (of this blog). Isn’t expressing the belief that most things were way better in the past the best indication that someone is a rabid conservative?

    • I think this blog has aged like fine wine. It gets better and better. Comparing our host Phil to Tucker Carlson should be considered a great compliment. Phil is perhaps the second best internet troll (number 1 is Trump of course). For a better understanding of Phil’s experience with family law one only needs to look up Greenspun vs. Greenspun to see how his thoughts on the matter have evolved.

    • +1000.

      The audience of this blog has also changed somewhat. A few interspersed free market libertarians before are now joined by a regular troupe of anti vaxxers, and unabased racists. The science-denying MAGA crowd loves the new blog!

    • I don’t understand immigration and why America does what we do, but there surely must be a more productive way to talk about it. It’s just the same privileged obsessions over and over. Immigration, taxes, lazy people on welfare, having a minimum wage(which is unlivable as is) instead of true free market wages, America doesn’t compare to Singapore, etc. Is family court any more dysfunctional than any other? Imagine facing criminal charges, facing the full weight of the government, your freedom at risk, without the benefit of privilege and a decent lawyer. Now that’s a frightening proposition. Or, being a small business or individual who can’t afford to spend $100k to enforce a contract or other legal dispute at all, just getting steamrolled by deep pockets. The legal system sucks, at least your freedom is intact. Philg is a smart and successful guy who lived what seems like a privileged life. It must have been a real shock when all that success, intellect and money didn’t help him pick a good mate and shield him from awful people in the world. Everyone has shortcomings, but privileged people refuse to take accountability for their own, looking to others to blame for their own mistakes or bad fortune. The laws, the courts, the lawyers, society at large, immigrants, government, etc. At the same time, people who grew up with shitty parents, no role models, bad schools, with mediocre genetics are supposed to somehow be upstanding and productive folks through osmosis, sheer will and the collective browbeating of conservatives. Guess what, lots of people on the low end of the bell curve pick good mates and have long marriages, despite being judged by some to be failures in other aspects of their lives. Shit happens to everyone. A conservatives failures must be the fault of others, but the failures of others must be their own doing. It’s such a blatant, hypocritical and childish version of heads I win, tails you loose. Instead of unproductive bitching about where we are, it would be much more interesting to me to figure out why Philg is as smart and successful as he is, and how we can apply that to the kids who need it.

    • Senorpablo: does not take the position that “family court is dysfunctional” as you suggest. It is not a sign of “dysfunction” that having sex with a dermatologist pays out more, over 23 years, than going to medical school and working as a primary care doctor (“justice” in Massachusetts). Nor it is a sign of “dysfunction” that having sex with a dermatologist pays out $13,000 per year for 18 years (“justice” in Nevada). Both the Massachusetts and Nevada courts are functional, in that the person who had the sex will get paid in accordance with whatever the respective legislatures have determined to be “justice.” Real World Divorce is there so that Americans, and foreign tourists visiting the U.S. (if the borders ever reopen), can understand what the law is and how it might apply to them. Is it “dysfunctional” that one night of sex in quite a few states pays better than a lifetime of work with a college degree? The plaintiffs in those states wouldn’t agree with you!

      (Similarly, it is not a sign of “dysfunction” that being on welfare leads to a better standard of living than working at the median wage, as it does in some states. See This presumably represents a choice by the voters and we can infer that it makes them happy to see multi-generational welfare families living comfortable middle-class lifestyles.)

    • Toucan Sam: I try to keep my personal life out of this blog, but since you brought it up… it was a surprise to me that being a short-term bride and a long-term family court plaintiff would prove to be a superior career choice for a Ph.D. economist than continuing to work with her Ph.D. in economics! But that’s the kind of mistake that Real World Divorce is designed to address. People can at least know what financial incentives a spouse or sex partner will have in whatever state they live in and/or have sex in.

      COVID-19 has made this a more critical issue than ever, I might add. Any W-2 job entails a risk of unemployment and the paycheck stopping. But family court plaintiffs who have secured lucrative child support or alimony (rare these days, since child support is where the real cash is) orders are being paid at 100 percent or their defendant will be imprisoned by the still fully functional government. Having sex with three different partners and obtaining a child support order from each (a diversified family court portfolio) is a far more secure financial lifestyle than being married to one partner (who might lose his/her/zir/their job) or relying on one’s own job (which might end).

    • Phil I am sorry to invade in your personal space and you can delete my comment if you like (or shorten it if you prefer). Not to get even more personal but I am sure we all want to know…. Do you care about Black Lives Matter?

    • Toucan Sam: I am so old that I believe in freedom of discussion on the Internet! So I will leave your comment.

      Do I care about BLM? Of course I do! In fact, today I shopped at Formaggio, a $25-40/lb. source of imported cheese and other gourmet items here in Cambridge. The sidewalk is given over to a “Black Lives Matter” sign painted amidst the Covid-19 queuing theory cones. So… my commitment to BLM was $87 for a small bag of food. That’s today alone! Because I shopped at a store that is committed to BLM. (In 25 years of shopping there I have never seen a Black customer, but perhaps soon there will be one!)

  4. The United States should accept an unlimited number of refugees from everywhere in the world until it collapses under the weight of all the wealth and strength it has gained. We have an unlimited amount of money to print, and there’s just no telling how much wealth we can accumulate in the next ten years by simply opening the floodgates and letting it all wash over us like a big humanitarian tsunami.

    We have so many vibrant cities just bursting at the seams with opportunity. The FAANG economy has really given us the ability to open our arms and hearts to vulnerable and disadvantaged populations all around the world.

    Here are a few links to some before/after photos of metro Detroit from 2009 and 2013. Look at how much better things got in four years of the Obama administration and the all-Democrat leadership of THAT city!

    And that’s just scratching the surface in one of our wealthiest and most vibrant cities. Things just keep getting better!

    We are obviously just sitting on a pile of wealth in this country, with 30 million Americans newly out of work, and it’s time to really uncork it and spread it around. Hey, Tesla is trading at 1,430.76 and all of the FAANGs are doing great after they explained to Congress how great they all were. So we have no excuse. And we’re not going to take no for answer anymore!

    • And don’t tell me Americans don’t have the money to help more refugees right now and build more of that wealth and strength. All you have to do is look at all the cars in food bank lines in places like Texas! Look at all those shiny cars! Americans are ROLLING in dough, they’re just raking it in with all this wealth from refugees we’ve already absorbed. It’s a crime that we’re not taking in MILLIONS of new refugees and helping them all get housing, food, healthcare, jobs, and everything else they need. It’s a crime that we haven’t done it already. We’re only hurting ourselves!

  5. There may be some sarcasm in the above arguments, but Libertarians make arguments like these all the time. They believe that markets solve all problems. Refugees wanting to come here is just a sign that migrants are not in equilibrium. Once enough refugees come here, and that might be 100 million or more, the USA will become less desirable, and refugees will no longer want to come here. Then we will be closer to the free travel that they dream about.

    • Roger: is a good reference for the starry-eyed libertarian point of view. Cato has proved that Nigeria and India are way richer and nicer places to live than Switzerland! (“The late economist and Cato Senior Fellow Julian Simon was known for his cornucopian vision of humanity which valued people as the ultimate resource. According to Simon, there are lasting economic benefits from continuous population growth that can overcome the scarcity of the natural world by boosting human ingenuity, discovering substitutes, and developing new technology all made possible by more human minds working together.”)

      “welfare” and “means-tested” do not appear in the Cato article. So they don’t attempt to explain what happens when people emigrate into a comprehensive welfare state in which work is optional. Nor do they try to explain how the immigration of an 80-year-old who doesn’t speak English and needs $2 million in medical treatment will make existing Americans better off.

      The article actually contains some data to suggest that its own thesis is incorrect: “After they arrive, immigrant workers, entrepreneurs, and investors increase the productive possibility of the U.S. economy and currently account for about 11 percent of all economic output.”

      Regardless of how many undocumented immigrants you assume, immigrants are more than 11 percent of the U.S. population. So by Cato’s own numbers you have a lot of additional demand on U.S. infrastructure (roads, schools, water, electricity, health care) and a small boost to the total GDP. that would never suffice to pay for the required infrastructure expansion.

  6. We know that low-skill immigrants make America great/rich. We know that low-skill refugee immigrants make America even greater. Yes, but what is the effect if low-skill refugees/immigrants on low-skill Americans?

  7. The key moral principle here is that of consent. Do the neighborhoods the refugee-industrial complex enriches consent to their enrichment?

    • I think for cities in depressed areas, e.g., non-coastal Maine or Upstate New York, becoming a designated dumping ground for refugees brought in by DC- and Manhattan-based refugee profiteers is actually enriching. Because every refugee comes with a lifetime of federal cash (housing subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), Obamaphone, etc.), even if the refugees kick off three or four generations of welfare lifestyle it still is a net gain for the city that otherwise has no industry. The refugee is using federal tax dollars to pay for health care at the local hospital (very likely the only new building in town!), to buy groceries at the local supermarket, and to pay rent to a local landlord for an apartment that would otherwise be vacant due to all of the jobs having moved to the Sunbelt.

  8. So why should we care about immigration or the less privileged? Don’t we have far more urgent issues and far more people needing help here at home to first taken care of? I am an immigrant and was less privileged and I really don’t agree with all this soft talk on this subject.

    My family and I immigrated to the USA back in 1981 after almost 7 years of waiting, that multiple visits to the US counsel office, background check, medical and physical exam, in person interview and providing affidavit of support — all this before we were granted a temporary visa. We were given our green card 2 years later after our arrival. The wait is to prove that we will make it on our own and will not break the laws.

    As soon as we arrived, within 2 weeks we were on our own, have a job, paying rent and were in school. We got the support from friends, families and local community and we didn’t draw $1 from the government. But we did take ESL at nights at public highs school so I guess my claim of not drawing any $ from the government won’t stand.

    The way I see it, if we don’t do a good job at screening and holding up the laws for immigrants or any other subject, we are doomed to fail as a nation. There are reasons for having laws and requirements that are put in place, they intend to keep things in order and balanced, not to preserve Conservatives needs or stop the Progressives.

    And feeling sorry for the less privileged is a losing battle. We have so much programs to help for those folks to get on their feet and be a productive member of society. Unfortunately, those programs are abused beyond your imagination such that they keep the less privileged stuck where they are. All that they do is give them more “fish” rather then a “nest” to fish. Only their leaders who advocate for them get well off from those programs.

    Finally, if we are to care about the less privileged and immigrants and bend the rules for them, then the same must also apply for everything else. Harvard, MIT, Yale, etc. must also stop their high requirement for admitting students who are less qualified. Google, FB, MS, Oracle, etc. must stop firing those who do not produce and hire those who do not qualify. Hospitals, health providers, day cares, etc. must do the same. Those who have mansions or large homes must give up their homes or accept into their homes the less privileged and the needed. So on and so forth.

    Oh wait, did I just described how things are done in North Korea, Cuba or the former USSR? I wonder why nobody wants to immigrate to those countries.

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