The Biden administration has announced that it aims to welcome up to 62,500 refugees into the US before the end of 2021. President Biden faced a huge backlash after seemingly avoiding a key campaign promise made to raise the refugee cap, which had been reduced by former US President, Donald Trump.
Biden had initially decided to keep the Trump administration’s record-low goal of 15,000 refugees per year. However, the President’s decision to increase the number of refugees welcomed into the US every year, following heavy criticism, was welcomed by US immigration advocates.
However, it was pointed out that the new figure was still well short of historic refugee numbers welcomed by the US. Some previous years have seen more than 200,000 refugee admissions.
Erases historically low number
A statement issued by the White House said: “This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
However, the White House statement came accompanied with a warning stating that after the Trump administration’s various large and small-scale rule changes to the US immigration system, refugee and asylum admissions were hugely scaled back, which means even the 62,500 target set by the Biden administration might not be possible.
The White House said: “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years.”
Under the Trump administration, the refugee cap and funding for resettlement were slashed. These changes had an even bigger impact amid the coronavirus pandemic as US immigration processing services began to slow down, while diplomatic offices were closed.
As part of his presidential campaign, Joe Biden had pledged to make the raising of refugee admissions a top priority, vowing to increase the cap to 125,000 for his first full fiscal year in office. The figure was even higher than the targets set by the Obama administration.
In 2020, the White House was targeting fewer refugee numbers, keeping the cap at 15,000. Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary said: “Keeping refugee admissions at 15,000 was due to the decimated refugee admissions program inherited by this administration and the burdens placed on the Office of Refugee Resettlement.”
Keeping the cap infuriated immigrant advocacy groups and political allies. At the time, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, said: “This is a time of unprecedented global need, and the US is still far from returning to its historic role of safe haven for the world’s persecuted and most vulnerable.”
The decision to leave the cap as it was, was announced at a time when a huge number of asylum seekers, processed through an entirely separate system, were arriving at the US-Mexico border and causing a conflagration of political controversy.
Outspoken congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) described keeping the low cap as ‘utterly unacceptable’.
In a post on Twitter on April 16, AOC wrote: “Completely and utterly unacceptable. Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise. Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, including the historically low and plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong. Keep your promise.”
Trump administration policies still in place
Despite demonstrating a seemingly less hardline stance on US immigration policy than his predecessor, Biden has kept some of Trump’s most impactful changes. He has kept Title 42, a Trump directive that largely shuts down the US southern border to adult asylum seekers based on coronavirus concerns.
This is despite Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists advising the Trump administration that there is no legitimate public health reason for doing so.
During his campaign, Biden had also promised to scrap Trump’s so-called ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, which has stranded tens of thousands of people in squalid camps on the Mexican side of the border while they waited for the US asylum claims to be processed.
While the Biden administration has allowed some people in this program to enter the US or seek coronavirus testing while awaiting the outcome of their asylum claim, only around 1.5% held under the program secure immigration to the US.
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