The Washington Post

Biden administra­tion set to accept fewer refugees than Trump, report says

- BY AMY B WANG amy.wang@washpost.com

Since his days on the campaign trail, President Biden has tried to cast himself as diametrica­lly opposed to President Donald Trump when it comes to welcoming refugees into the United States.

Within two weeks of taking office, Biden signed an executive order to rebuild and enhance federal programs to resettle refugees — programs he said had been “badly damaged” under the Trump administra­tion. Biden also revoked some restrictiv­e immigratio­n policies Trump had put in place, including ones that sought to ban refugees from certain countries. In February, Biden announced he was raising the annual cap on refugee admissions to 125,000 for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, up from Trump’s historical­ly low limit of 15,000.

However, Biden has yet to do one thing that would make all of those changes official: sign what is known as a presidenti­al determinat­ion. Without that action, Trump’s old policies and his 15,000-person cap on refugee settlement­s remain in effect.

Signing a presidenti­al determinat­ion typically takes place almost immediatel­y after such policy announceme­nts. The delay has so far lasted eight weeks.

Because of it, Biden is on track to accept the fewest refugees this year of any modern president, including Trump, according to a report released Friday from the Internatio­nal Rescue Committee, a nonprofit humanitari­an aid group.

The Biden administra­tion has admitted only 2,050 refugees at the halfway point of this fiscal year, despite Biden’s promises to reverse Trump-era immigratio­n policies, dramatical­ly raise the cap on refugee settlement­s and respond to what his officials have called “unforeseen and urgent situations,” the IRC report noted.

The group estimated that, at the current pace and without the reversal of Trump-era policies, the Biden administra­tion will admit only about 4,510 refugees into the United States this fiscal year, less than half of the figure admitted in Trump’s final year.

“I don’t know the specific reason why [Biden] hasn’t signed, and it’s really unusual that he hasn’t signed,” said Nazanin Ash, the IRC’S vice president for global policy and advocacy. “It is typically a standard, automatic last step in the process.”

A State Department representa­tive on Sunday referred all questions about the presidenti­al determinat­ion on refugee admissions to the White House. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The IRC report criticized the delay as “unexplaine­d” and “unjustifie­d,” particular­ly amid worsening refugee crises in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It also said the administra­tion was neglecting to use refugee resettleme­nt as a “critical tool” to address the sharp increase in migrants at the U.s.-mexico border. This fiscal year, the United States has admitted only 139 refugees from the “Northern Triangle” countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

“With more than 1.4 million refugees in need of resettleme­nt worldwide and fewer than 1 percent of all refugees ever considered for this life-saving program, no admissions slot should go unfilled,” the report said.

It also noted that Muslim refugees continue to be disproport­ionately affected by the Trump policies that remain in place, especially Syrian refugees who were already the group most affected by Trump’s low refugee admissions cap. Under the Biden administra­tion, only 42 Syrian refugees have been resettled to the United States this fiscal year.

“These categories are nothing short of discrimina­tory. And there’s no rational relationsh­ip between these categories and any security or other concern of the United States,” Ash said. “They were simply put in place by the Trump administra­tion to restrict refugee admissions and in particular to restrict the admission of black, brown, Asian and Muslim refugees.”

Among groups that work with refugees, Ash said Biden’s delay was met with confusion at first, followed by a “deep concern” as days turned into weeks. Refugees who initially cheered Biden’s policy changes — and in many cases who began upending their lives again to finally move to the United States because they thought they had received the green light — were left in the lurch and have been for two months.

“As a result, tens of thousands of already-cleared refugees remain barred from resettleme­nt and over 700 resettleme­nt flights have been cancelled, leaving vulnerable refugees in uncertain limbo,” the report said.

Biden’s discretion­ary budget for fiscal 2022, released last week, includes a request for $4.3 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettleme­nt and $345 million for U.S. Citizenshi­p and Immigratio­n Services to support an increased refugee cap, as well as $10 billion in humanitari­an assistance to support vulnerable population­s abroad.

However, refugee advocates say those in limbo often cannot afford to wait weeks, let alone months, until the next fiscal year.

Last week, more than 100 state and local elected officials signed a letter urging Biden to immediatel­y sign the presidenti­al declaratio­n and raise the country’s refugee settlement cap to 62,500 for the second half of the fiscal year.

“At least 80 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes and among them are more than 29 million refugees,” the letter stated. “Despite this, only a tiny fraction will ever be afforded the chance for resettleme­nt to a third country, like the United States. Now is the time for your administra­tion to fulfill its commitment to human rights and refugee protection; only then can we urge the global community to also do their part.”

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