Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Progressives have slammed Biden for his refugee moves. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Biden’s refugee stumbles come amid major blowback from progressives

The president tried keeping a Trump era cap on refugees. It was a mistake.


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The White House announced on Friday, April 16 that President Joe Biden plans to increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. next month after facing a public uproar over the surprise decision to keep a Trump-era cap in place.

The administration said earlier that Biden would sign an emergency determination maintaining the fiscal year’s target of 15,000 refugee admissions, the historically-low number set by former President Donald Trump.

This move, which was a radical reversal on his promise to lift this cap to 62,500, resulted in immediate blowback from Democratic allies and advocacy groups. 

The order lifted refugee admission restrictions on regions blocked by the Trump administration, including Africa and the Middle East. It stated that Biden would consult with Congress in the case of any “unforeseen emergency situation.” 

Hours later, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the president deliberated with his advisors on what number of refugees the U.S. could “realistically admit” through Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year. 

"Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely," Psaki said in a statement. 

Psaki also said that Biden was urged to reverse his predecessor’s ban on refugees from certain regions, and a final, increased cap for the rest of the year is expected on May 15. 

In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. would permit 62,500 refugees to resettle, claiming that the decision was founded on and justified by “grave humanitarian concerns.” 

Rep. Ilham Omar, a refugee from Somalia, called Biden’s decision to keep the Trump-era cap, “shameful.”

“I know finding a home is a matter of life or death for children around the world," Omar tweeted, saying that it is a shame that the president is reneging on a key promise to welcome refugees.” 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal called the move “unacceptable and unconscionable” and claimed that Biden has “broken his promise to restore our humanity.”

The administration is currently facing multiple challenges with immigration. 

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there were more than 25 million refugees across the world as of mid-2020. 

As much as Biden promised early on to reverse several of Trump’s damaging immigration policies and make the country a better place for immigrants, the system is broken, and it is not an easy task. 

More and more unaccompanied minors keep crossing into the states, and the administration has been scrambling to house them, feed them, and process their legal cases. 

Biden and his team have also faced criticism in their handling of these children, particularly for the reopening of Trump-era border facilities used to house migrant teenagers, including one that both Biden and Harris condemned Trump for on multiple occasions. 

Although the refugee resettlement program is separate from border issues, Psaki said Friday that "it is a factor."

Psaki explained that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has officials working on both of these issues, and that they “have to ensure that there is capacity and ability to manage both," she said. 

She added that the refugee program needed to be completely restructured after the Trump administration drastically minimized its efficiency. 

“It took us some time to see and evaluate how ineffective, or how trashed in some ways, the refugee processing system had become, and so we had to rebuild some of those muscles and put it back in place," she said. 

As of March 31, the U.S. had admitted 2,050 refugees under the Trump administration’s 15,000 cap. Before Friday’s reversal, Congressional Democrats pressed Biden to make official the 62,500 refugee 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,” more than 40 House Democrats wrote in a letter to Biden, issued shortly before the White House's decision. 

An ally of Biden, Sen. Bob Menendez, slammed the administration’s decision, noting that Trump’s 15,000 limit is the lowest since the inception of the resettlement program 40 years ago. 

Menendez, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the administration’s delay in issuing its revised cap has stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance into the country. 

"We cannot turn our backs on refugees around the world, including hundreds of refugees who have already been cleared for resettlement, have sold their belongings, and are ready to board flights," Rep. Jayapal said in a statement. 


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