Joan Rosenhauer is the executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. Rosenhauer leads the organization’s efforts in the United States to accompany, serve, and advocate for refugees and displaced people in over fifty countries around the world. As an executive vice president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Rosenhauer led the organization’s outreach, marketing, and communication efforts. Prior to joining CRS, Rosenhauer spent sixteen years with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where she most recently served as the associate director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development. Commonweal contributing writer John Gehring spoke with Rosenhauer about the Biden administration’s immigration policies, global Covid vaccination efforts, and women’s leadership in the Church. This interview has been edited for clarity.
John Gehring: Last November, President Joe Biden addressed your organization in remarks timed to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Jesuit Refugee Service. In that speech, he pledged to reverse Donald Trump's evisceration of our refugee system and promised to “restore America’s historic role in protecting the vulnerable and defending the rights of refugees everywhere.” As Biden approaches the anniversary of his first year in office, how do you assess his administration’s policies on refugees and migrants?
Joan Rosenhauer: President Biden has made some good policy decisions to protect and support refugees and migrants, but he has also made a number of bad decisions that are harming the world’s most vulnerable people. We were pleased by the actions taken by the president on critical policies like reversing the so-called “Muslim ban” and raising the limit on the number of refugees who can be resettled in the United States to 125,000 for 2022, as he promised. However, it is deeply concerning and surprising that he continues to use the Trump administration’s policies to block people who have fled their homes from seeking safety in the United States. He continues to use Title 42, a public-health policy, to stop people from seeking asylum even though countless public-health experts have said it is not necessary. His administration has also failed to successfully end the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which means people must wait in highly dangerous conditions in Mexico for their opportunity to request asylum in the United States. We have been very disappointed by these border policies and will continue to push the administration to take steps to honor its commitments.
JG: The Department of Homeland Security announced last month that the administration would re-implement the “Remain in Mexico” policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Your organization is part of a coalition of over ninety Catholic groups calling on President Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both of whom are Catholics, to end this policy. Why is the administration doing this and what is the impact on migrants?
JR: President Biden suspended the MPP on his first day in office due to the violence migrants faced in Mexico while waiting for their court hearings, and officially ended it in June. However, officials in Texas and Missouri sued the administration in April over the program’s suspension. In August, a federal judge for the Northern District of Texas sided with the states and ordered the administration to reinstate the policy. Despite an appeal to the Supreme Court, the administration’s efforts to end the policy were blocked. It’s shocking that the U.S. and Mexican governments decided not only to reinstate but to expand the “Remain in Mexico” policy to include additional Western-Hemisphere countries such as Haiti. The consequences this policy has on the safety, dignity, and rights of asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border are immense and devastating. Tens of thousands of potential newcomers are forced to remain in cartel-controlled areas, and are subjected to human trafficking, domestic abuse, and destitute economic conditions.
JG: Since President Biden pulled troops out of Afghanistan, there has been a major effort to resettle Afghan refugees fleeing the country. What role has JRS played in those resettlement efforts?