Hundreds of refugees were thrown back into limbo when Biden at first stalled on signing the presidential determination for two months, only to then keep the previous administration’s 15,000 cap in place for the current fiscal year. Biden had in the early days of his administration pledged to raise the current year’s cap to 62,500 and the first full fiscal year’s cap to 125,000, but had not given the final signature authorizing it.
While resettlement agencies had been decimated by the prior administration, they told the administration they had the capability to handle the 62,500 number. “The nine resettlement agencies, along with Refugee Council USA, urged Biden to sign off on the higher cap Friday, calling it ‘imperative,’ according to a letter addressed to the President,” CNN had reported. HIAS executive director Mark Hetfield told the Times the administration’s initial plan was in fact “really thoughtful, and we were so thrilled. And then, it just evaporated overnight.”
Biden’s delays resulted in the cancellation of flights for over 700 refugees who had been waiting to start new lives in the U.S. Frustrating to advocates and legislators at the time was that there’d been no clarity from the White House on why Biden had not yet given the necessary signature. “I don’t know why there’s a hold up. I want to understand why this hasn’t already happened,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, according to HuffPost’s Igor Bobic.
The hold-up was political, this new report says, with the president apparently fearful that sticking to his pledge “would invite from Republicans new attacks of hypocrisy and open borders even as the president was calling for bipartisanship.” But Republicans are already doing that anyway with other immigration proposals supported by a broad swath of Americans, like legislation putting undocumented young immigrants on a path to citizenship.
Another report from The Washington Post this week mirrored this other reporting. “Biden harbored concerns about what the sharp increase in migrants at the southern border meant for the government’s capacity to handle an influx of refugees from elsewhere, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private deliberations,” the report said. “In the end, the president’s own misgivings fueled the decision more than anything else, the people said.”
Asylum and refugee systems “are different and distinct—one is largely run by Health and Human services. The other is largely run by the State department,” Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services president Krish O’Mara Vignarajah continued to clarify, Politico reports. “There is no logistical or administrative reason we can’t protect both of these vulnerable populations. I believe if we want to make good on President Biden’s promise to restore the soul of our nation, we must protect both.”
Only under “fast and furious” condemnation did the Biden administration walk back the 15,000 cap, Kerry Eleveld wrote last week, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki issuing a statement claiming the cap would be revised upward next month. But with no mention of the 62,500 pledge, there are worries the number the administration announces will be nowhere close to that. “Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is calling for President Biden to keep his promises to the thousands of vulnerable children and families who seek refuge on our shores,” the organization tweeted.
“The response to the refugee admissions number announced on Friday was quick, strong, and loud,” HIAS senior vice president of public affairs Melanie Nezer said. “Advocates, legislators, newspaper opinion pages, and the public were all saying the same thing—this is not what we expect of this president and not what we will accept. To the administration’s credit, they listened.” The organization said “[n]ow refugee advocates and supporters must keep the pressure on to make sure the administration fulfills its promise this time.” They’re urging advocates to contact the Biden administration here.