There are fewer refugees being resettled to safety in the U.S. right now than there were during the last year of the Trump administration. Read that again.
For refugee protection advocates, hopes for a Biden administration have been high. From the beginning of his campaign, President BidenJoe BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles MORE promised he would quickly restore American leadership by rebuilding the historically bipartisan life-saving refugee resettlement program — which was decimated under the Trump administration. It’s the reason we at Voice for Refuge, the only refugee focused 501(c)4, heartily endorsed President Biden.
To his credit, after inauguration President Biden quickly signaled his intent to follow through on his commitment to support refugee resettlement. Through executive action, he rescinded the previous administration’s wrongful refugee bans and laid the foundation to strengthen refugee protections and increase refugee admissions. President Biden also announced his plan to increase the refugee admissions goal, known as the presidential determination, for the remainder of this fiscal year to 62,500 — from the historic low of 15,000 — and then to 125,000 for Fiscal Year 2022. This change would also end the Trump-era guidelines harmfully restricting which refugees could be resettled, which had made even meeting the tiny existing goal nearly impossible. The harm caused by the overly restrictive refugee categories cannot be overstated.
As the administration met its legal obligations to consult Congress on the revised refugee admissions goal, it seemed as if it would only be a matter of days before families would be reunited and American communities would be able to start welcoming more refugees home. Flights were booked, apartments were prepared, and then nothing.
It has been almost two months since his announcement and more than one month since the consultations, and President Biden has still not signed on the dotted line to allow more refugees to travel.
Seven hundred flights have been canceled, and there is now an indefinite suspension on booking travel for refugees who are not in the restrictive categories. Each week that passes, security checks that are required for travel expire. Families who have been waiting years for loved ones to finally arrive are being dealt another blow to their hopes, and potentially significant delays to their cases.
President Biden has not been forthright with why this delay is happening. With increasing needs for protecting asylum seekers at the border, it appears the administration is holding the resettlement program hostage as it figures out what to do next. History has clearly shown that the U.S. has the resources and the will to have both a robust resettlement program and a humane system for protecting asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. This is an excuse based only on optics, and ignores the reality that resettlement and asylum protections are complementary.
Congress must urge President Biden to urgently sign the presidential determination to officially revise the FY 2021 refugee admissions goal of 62,500. Resettlement agencies and welcoming communities are ready.
The administration also needs to urgently present a candidate to be the next Assistant Secretary for the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) to make sure that refugee admissions continue. Likewise, the White House should appoint a high-level advisor to coordinate the work of government agencies and civil society as they take on the task of rebuilding the resettlement program from the ground up.
If President Biden is going to remain true to his word, there is no time to waste.
Mary Elizabeth Margolis is the Acting Managing Director of Voice for Refuge Action Fund, the nation’s only 501(c)4 organization focused on advancing pro-refugee policies.