Biden promised to let more refugees into the country. What happened?


'This continues to have a devastating impact on people in dire need of humanitarian protection,' families of refugees wrote in a letter to the White House, citing the Trump-era ceiling that's still in place.

President Joe Biden announced plans in early February to dramatically raise the refugee admissions ceiling for the current fiscal year, which had been set at a dismal 15,000 limit by the prior administration.

Months later, he has yet to follow through on that promise — and refugee groups are demanding answers.

Biden reportedly notified Congress on Feb. 5 of his plan to increase the admissions cap to 62,500, but he is still required by law to issue a presidential determination. As of early April, that had not happened.

On Tuesday, refugee resettlement agencies, families of refugees, and 124 elected officials from 35 states sent a letter to Biden calling on him to formally raise the current ceiling.

"This continues to have a devastating impact on people in dire need of humanitarian protection," the signatories wrote.

Thus far, the Biden administration has stuck with Donald Trump's admissions cap limit for the current fiscal year, a record low of 15,000 — the lowest since the 1980 Refugee Act, which established a yearly ceiling, was passed.

Because Trump's cap is still in place, the letter noted, only 2,050 refugees have been allowed into the country this year, leaving hundreds of refugees in limbo.

Nejra Sumic, a refugee advocate who helped organize the letter, told the Associated Press, "We hope that President Biden will listen to our voices."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the 62,500 admissions cap was still a priority for the president, or whether there was a schedule in place for when the administration plans to enact it.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told the AP on Tuesday, "There's a great deal of rebuilding that needs to take place in order to have a refugee program that allows us to achieve what we wanted to achieve in a way that is both effective and that is safe."

Price said it would take time to restore the program, which was depleted under the Trump administration.

On March 24, more than 200 refugee advocacy groups, including Refugee Council USA, Amnesty International, Catholic Charities, sent a letter to Biden also calling on him to take swift action.

"We urge you to immediately sign a new, revised FY21 refugee admissions goal of 62,500 and restore regional allocations based on vulnerability and need," the organizations wrote. "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."

For the upcoming fiscal year 2022, Biden has already signed an executive order raising the admissions ceiling to 125,000.

That's eight times higher than the cap under the Trump administration, which pushed hardline immigration policies crafted in large part by Trump's senior policy adviser and white nationalist sympathizer Stephen Miller.

"The Trump administration was extreme with respect to the refugee admissions program, and they really looked at every possible way to massively alter the demographics and reduce the population and the pipeline of people coming to the United States," Nazanin Ash, International Rescue Committee vice president, told the Washington Post in December 2020.

Ash noted the Trump administration's severe destruction of the refugee program.

Wa’el Alzayat, chief executive of the civic engagement organization the Emgage Foundation, told the Post that month that continuation of the Trump-era cap was detrimental to those seeking safety in the United States.

"There are these extreme vetting protocols in place right now, and there is really no oversight. So the end result is just delays," Alzayat said.

He noted that even if the Biden administration has the will to raise the cap, logistics could mean it might take months to implement a higher admissions number, due to shuttered resettlement offices, closed due to lack of use under Trump, and a need for more officials to review case files.

"It's going to be hard," Ash concluded.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.