With a single stroke of his pen, President Biden could reverse the Trump-era refugee cap, a ruling that dramatically reduced the number of refugees the United States can admit every year. But Biden hasn’t budged, and his reluctance is generating frustration among immigration advocates hoping for a fresh start from the Trump years, especially since Biden’s hesitancy coincides with the influx of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
CNN reports the White House was already poised to sign off on admitting 65,000 refugees into the U.S. this year, and to bump that number up to 125,000 for 2022. But “political optics” has allegedly led to some serious delays.
From CNN (emphasis ours):
One Democratic aide described what is unfolding as “vintage Biden” in terms of preserving his options so that he can maintain decision-making space for the one that best suits him politically.
Democratic lawmakers and advocates, frustrated with the delay, have tried to seek answers from the administration but have fallen short. When asked by reporters about next steps, administration officials haven’t provided clarity, instead maintaining that the President is committed to the issue. Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was committed to raising the refugee ceiling to 62,500 this fiscal year but she didn’t provide a timeline.
Democratic lawmakers worry that part of the White House’s calculation is that with the flow of migrants on the southern border, raising the refugee cap now — even though it is an entirely different program — could become a political problem. But many Democratic senators argue that it’s a separate program and should be treated as such.
While lawmakers are largely giving Biden the benefit of the doubt, refugees are getting screwed over. Take this CNN report from March about the refugees who are being removed from flights and forced to endure longer waits thanks to this inaction:
In one case, a Congolese family of five set to depart Uganda, where they’ve been staying since fleeing war and violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo, had their flight canceled this week, said Becca Schwartz, resettlement director of Jewish Social Services of Madison, Wisconsin.
“We didn’t expect this. And it’s hard to understand why it’s happening,” Schwartz said.
“Each day that passes without this signed executive action is another day that hundreds of particularly vulnerable refugees are forced to wait to be resettled,” said John Slocum, interim executive director of Refugee Council USA, in a statement.
In another example provided by refugee resettlement organization HIAS, a 30-year-old pregnant Congolese woman was vetted and approved to fly to the U.S. last month, but her ticket was canceled because Biden had not yet signed the executive order as promised. Now, she’s in her third trimester and can no longer travel.
Before leaving office, then-President Obama raised the refugee admittance cap to 110,000 to help accommodate Syrian refugees. But once Trump was inaugurated in 2017, he implemented a total freeze on refugee admittance for the rest of the calendar year, a galling new policy born from the nativist imagination of his notoriously racist policy advisor, Stephen Miller. Miller was also instrumental in the refugee cap the Trump administration set for 2018: 45,000, a number that Miller reportedly still considered far too high (Miller has sincerely suggested the cap be set to zero). With each year of Trump’s tenure, the refugee cap dropped: 30,000 in 2019 and 18,000 in 2020. Trump set the cap to 15,000 for 2021.
With every passing day the refugee cap stands at 15,000, Miller and his greasy bald head win. That thought alone should keep everyone in the Biden administration up at night.