Despite Promise, Biden Will Keep Refugee Admissions at Same Level as Trump This Year
President Biden will keep the number of refugees allowed in the country this year capped at 15,000—the same number allowed under President Trump—despite an earlier pledge to raise it to more than 60,000. Biden will, however, get rid of other Trump-era policies that limited the types of refugees allowed to enter the U.S.
Trump had also put in limits that favored certain categories of refugees—those under religious persecution (mostly Christians) and people from Iraq who helped the U.S. military—and banned refugees from areas of the Middle East and Africa. But the Biden administration will eliminate those restrictions and revert to the old system, which allocates slots by region.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a White House official said that the administration might consider raising the refugee number for the current fiscal year once the 15,000 cap is reached. “We intend to use all 15,000 slots under the new Emergency Presidential Determination and will closely monitor progress toward that end,” a White House spokesman told the Journal.
And a senior administration official told the New York Times that the surge of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border led to concerns the Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee office would be overwhelmed. But, the Times noted, asylum seekers and refugees are processed through an “entirely separate system.”
During the presidential campaign and a February speech to the State Department, Biden said his administration would let as many as 125,000 refugees into the country during his first complete fiscal year in office, which is set to start in October. Still, the president’s decision for the remainder of this year could have consequences for refugees and immigration courts said Dr. Austin Kocher, a research assistant professor at Syracuse University’s Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse.
“President Biden’s decision to leave Trump-era refugee caps in place means that the United States will, once again, accept the lowest number of refugees since it ratified the refugee convention in 1980,” Kocher said. “This decision could undermine trust in the refugee resettlement process and prompt still more refugees to attempt to come through the asylum system, placing an even heavier burden on the U.S. immigration court system.”
Progressive Democrats were also unhappy with the decision. Reps. Ilhan Omar—who is the first African refugee to join Congress—Pramila Jayapal and Jan Schakowsky wrote a letter to the president urging him to raise the cap. “We must keep our promises to people who have fled unthinkably brutal conditions in their home countries and live up to our ambition to provide them a safe haven to re-start their lives,” they said, adding, “But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory.”
And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed her disappointment on Twitter, writing, “Completely and utterly unacceptable. Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise.”
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