President Joe Biden will uphold former President Donald Trump’s historically low “refugee cap” despite earlier promises to raise it drastically, he announced Friday.
Biden’s decision prolongs what Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) have decried as “the Trump Administration’s full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States.” The progressive lawmakers had previously sent a letter to Biden criticizing this “unacceptably draconian and discriminatory” refugee policy and urging him to formally increase the maximum number of refugees that may be admitted to the U.S. each year.
Though Biden pledged to raise the limit to 125,000 a year and overturn some of Trump’s restrictive policies, Biden delayed signing a presidential determination to formally raise the limit for weeks. Now, with this new decision, the U.S. will continue turning away tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom have already been cleared.
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A recent report found that Biden is set to accept the fewest refugees of any modern president because of the restrictive refugee limit of 15,000 people per year that Trump set during his term. Biden had given Democrats and progressives false hope that he would undo that limit earlier this year.
“We have all been deeply distressed at the stories of hundreds of refugees who had been cleared for resettlement having their flights cancelled at the last minute, in some cases having already left their residences and sold their belongings.” read the letter led by Omar, Jayapal and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois). “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.”
The letter had been cosigned by more than 30 other Democratic representatives as of Friday morning, including members of the progressive squad like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Jamaal Bowman (D-New York). The lawmakers urged Biden to sign a presidential determination to formally lift the cap “immediately,” because “Lives depend on it.” Biden had delayed signing it for many weeks, presumably because he has now changed his mind on the matter.
“There is immense and growing urgency on this issue, for the many who have already been approved for resettlement, and for the unimaginable number of people who continue to hold out hope that they can one day rebuild their lives destroyed by climate, conflict, and repression,” the letter from the lawmakers said.
The lawmakers emphasized findings that Muslim refugees are disproportionately affected by oppressive policies put forth by Trump; Syrian refugees, who were hurt most by Trump’s policies cruelly banning refugees, are especially affected.
The lawmakers’ letter followed similar demands from humanitarian organizations that have also urged Biden to undo Trump’s cap. Advocates from the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization, told The Washington Post this week that they were concerned and alarmed about Biden’s delay in signing the presidential determination.
Some Democratic aides and senior administration officials have offered an explanation for Biden’s decision: The president apparently fears bad optics because of the Republican-driven narrative that Biden has prompted an unusually high number of immigrants to attempt to cross the U.S.’s southern border. In reality, analyses have shown that a slight uptick in border crossings this year is explainable by seasonal patterns and the pandemic.
Many political commentators have pointed out that Biden’s logic of denying refugees entrance for political reasons is cruel. “So Biden is continuing a profoundly immoral policy that hurts desperate people because he’s worried about Republican fearmongering on a separate issue,” wrote Radley Balko, a Washington Post journalist, on Twitter. “That’s not leadership. It’s capitulation.”
Democrats and progressives also recently expressed frustration over Biden’s immigration policies when news outlets reported that his administration was still continuing to build Trump’s border wall, despite Biden’s promises that “not another foot” of the wall would be built under his administration.
Omar said in a press release earlier this month that she is “deeply disturbed by reports that the Administration is considering further construction of Donald Trump’s border wall.”
She added: “The wall is a monument of xenophobia and hatred that does nothing to address the root causes of migration and asylum claims — violence and unrest in the countries of origin that the United States has often exacerbated.”