Albuquerque Journal

Biden on way to be most anti-refugee modern president

- CATHERINE RAMPELL Columnist

The most anti-refugee president in modern history may not be Donald Trump. Right now, it’s looking like Joe Biden. At least according to the numbers.

Halfway through fiscal 2021, the U.S. has admitted only 2,050 refugees, State Department data show. At the current pace, about 4,100 people would be resettled here this year.

That would be the lowest number since the modern refugee resettleme­nt program began in 1980; the previous record low came last year, under Trump, at 11,814.

Amazingly, monthly admissions have slowed since Biden took office. Over the previous four decades, refugee admissions averaged about 78,000 annually, or roughly 19 times the total we’re on track for this year.

This is not, presumably, what most Americans thought they were getting when they elected Biden.

Biden has spoken warmly of immigrants in general and refugees in particular. He has argued that welcoming the “huddled masses” is an American tradition, humanitari­an duty and diplomatic advantage. He announced plans to rebuild the refugee resettleme­nt program, hobbled by years of successive­ly lower refugee admissions ceilings set by Trump.

Biden said this process would begin by quadruplin­g the record-low ceiling Trump had set for fiscal 2021 — taking it from 15,000 to 62,500.

More significan­tly, Biden said he would remove discrimina­tory eligibilit­y criteria that Trump added mere days before the 2020 election. These impossible-to-meet admission categories effectivel­y blocked nearly all refugees from African and Muslim countries. These criteria are the main reason admissions have slowed to a trickle.

Biden announced all this in early February. State Department officials began booking flights for refugees who had been waiting for years — people who had been fully screened for national security and public health concerns.

Then, astounding­ly, Biden blocked his own policy from taking effect.

Without explanatio­n, Biden never signed the paperwork, called a “presidenti­al determinat­ion,” legally necessary to lift Trump’s restrictio­ns.

So, roughly 715 desperate refugees whose travel arrangemen­ts were made by Biden’s own State Department — many had given away their possession­s and vacated their homes — had their tickets abruptly canceled.

At least one family in a Tanzanian refugee camp was booked on a flight for February and reschedule­d for another flight in March, according to the Internatio­nal Rescue Committee, the nonprofit resettleme­nt agency assigned to receive them in Idaho.

Ultimately, their travel was canceled, a sign that even State Department officials hadn’t anticipate­d Biden’s repeated and unexplaine­d paperwork delays. Many families had similar experience­s during Trump’s presidency, when they were also booked and subsequent­ly unbooked for flights.

Which suggests how little has changed since Trump left office, despite Biden’s warm-and-fuzzy rhetoric.

Asked repeatedly by me and others what accounts for Biden’s delay, White House officials have struggled to answer. Sometimes they try to blame Trump, complainin­g his administra­tion left a system in “disrepair” that requires “rebuilding.” No doubt, Trump wrought a lot of damage upon the immigratio­n system, and more resources would be necessary to reach the much higher refugee admissions Biden claims he wants for the next fiscal year — 125,000; currently, there aren’t enough people sufficient­ly far along in the refugee-screening pipeline to meet that goal.

But none of this explains why the few thousand already fully vetted and deemed “travel-ready” by the State Department as of early March have not been allowed in. The only thing preventing their entry is Biden’s refusal to do the right thing and sign a simple document.

The only explanatio­n I can fathom is the White House fears ordinary Americans will confuse the refugee resettleme­nt system with the surge of migrants at the southern border.

“Refugees” and “asylum seekers” might sound synonymous, but the groups are subject to different sets of laws, screening procedures and executive authoritie­s. One key difference is that refugees apply from abroad and are screened for eligibilit­y before they arrive; asylum seekers apply from within our borders or at a port of entry.

In other words, refugees are doing precisely what both Biden and Republican­s urge those fleeing persecutio­n and violence to do: staying abroad, and not crossing into the United States unlawfully; proving to U.S. and internatio­nal officials that their lives are indeed in danger, and that they meet the legal requiremen­ts for resettleme­nt; enduring extensive screening to prove they don’t threaten national security or public health; and then patiently waiting their turn for admission, a process that usually takes years.

And how is Biden rewarding them? The same way Trump did: by slamming the door.

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