WASHINGTON – The White House announced Friday that President Biden would limit the number of refugees admitted to the United States this year to the Trump administration’s historically low levels, undoing an earlier promise of more than 60,000 people before the war and To take chase.
However, the attempt to limit the number to 15,000 drew such an immediate response from Democrats and human rights activists that the White House later pulled back and promised to announce a final, increased number by May 15.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not specify how many refugees will be allowed into the country, but said Mr Biden’s original target of 62,500 was “unlikely”.
The sway highlighted the Biden administration’s struggle to find its footing as it tried to reverse President Donald J. Trump’s strict immigration policies amid a record spate of children and youth crossing the southwestern border.
“This goal of admitting refugees from the Biden administration is unacceptable,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “In view of the largest refugee crisis of our time, there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Don’t say it, President Joe. “
Unauthorized migrants crossing the border will be processed differently than refugees who have been fully screened and admitted for resettlement prior to arrival. However, Mr Biden was concerned that lifting the cap on refugees in the Trump era would overwhelm the already-ailing system, according to two senior administrative officials who discussed the decision-making process on condition of anonymity.
Even so, the Biden government had promised to raise the ceiling for months. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told Congress on February 12 that the government was planning to allow up to 62,500 refugees to enter the United States in the fiscal year ended September 30, citing “serious humanitarian concerns” the whole world.
For two months, however, Mr. Biden did not sign a presidential decision allowing refugees to board flights to America.
Maintaining the Trump-era admission level of 15,000 has left thousands of refugees stranded in camps in Kenya, Tanzania and Jordan. Around 33,000 refugees have already been screened and are ready to travel to the US.
Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and politics at World Relief, a evangelical Christian-affiliated resettlement agency, said Mr. Biden’s “return journey” to raise the ceiling “does not change the reality,” which for now is the historically low ceiling remains.
“The president broke his promise once,” said Ms. Yang, “and at this point he needs to back up his statements with concrete measures that will actually begin to rebuild the refugee program.”
Friday’s policy included some changes to the Trump-era program that gave priority to Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. military and the people, especially Christians, who face religious persecution. It also disqualified most of the other Muslim and African refugees.
Mr Biden is changing this by allowing refugees based on the region they are fleeing to. The cut-out slots offer space for 7,000 Africans; 1,000 East Asians; 1,500 Europeans and Central Asians; and 3,000 Latin Americans and Carribeans. It also includes 1,500 openings for people from the Middle East and South Asia, as well as an additional 1,000 unrelated to any particular region.
Ms. Psaki said the government could not raise the cap as quickly as it wanted because of the “decimated refugee reception program we have inherited”. Administration officials have described a daunting task of reviving this program.
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Refugee officers have been transferred from overseas posts that have been closed and their travel has been limited during the pandemic. And resettlement offices in the United States have had to close due to financial constraints due to cuts in refugee admission.
“America needs to rebuild our refugee resettlement program,” said Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, who said the government will occupy all 15,000 seats. “And work with Congress to increase intake and rebuild the number of people we sign up.”
But the changes to the program and a possible surge in admissions next month would be too late for some refugees who had prepared to travel to the US this month after the government made its initial commitment.
Asende Ecasa, 33, packed her things and left the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania last month to arrive in the United States on March 4th. After Mr Biden postponed the confirmation of admission, Ms Ecasa’s flight was canceled. The medical screening she received to make sure her trip was over.
Her cousin Alex Majaliwa, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, now has no idea when Ms. Ecasa will be allowed to enter the country.
“If possible, the president can really hear our suffering because we want to come to the nation to find our lives and improve our lives,” said Majaliwa. It took years before he was approved for resettlement in America.
However, Biden administration officials trying to explain the delay in increasing admissions said the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the line in recent weeks played a role in the president’s decision to keep the ceiling on as the surge forced officials to allocate resources to finding shelter in the United States.
This logic has also been used by the Trump administration to drastically reduce the number of refugees, although it is not that easy to do.
The argument also seemed to undercut Ms. Psaki’s comments earlier this month. Asked at a press conference whether the designation delay had anything to do with resources flowing towards the border, she said, “It has nothing to do with it. No.”
While the Department of Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Office has a role in responding to border minors and refugees overseas, the two immigrant populations are processed separately.
“These are two completely different avenues and programs,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, executive director of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “America has always been able to walk and chew gum.”
Refugees receive federally funded housing, health care, and job placement assistance when they arrive in communities in the United States. For minors crossing the border unaccompanied, the government is temporarily funding emergency shelters in which they must remain until their legal guardians are verified.
The government this month announced plans to Congress to pour about $ 1.3 billion from other Department of Health and Human Services programs toward efforts for unaccompanied children, a person familiar with the notice said they were on the condition who disclosed anonymity.
Minors entering the United States are eligible for asylum and must be placed in an animal shelter managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, while refugees are not allowed to enter the country until they have passed multiple levels of State Department verification and Homeland Security.
Members of Congress and immigration supporters criticized Mr Biden’s decisions on Friday.
“President Biden broke his promise to restore our humanity,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington. “We cannot turn our backs on refugees all over the world.”
Nazanin Ash, vice president of politics and advocacy for the International Bailout Committee, said postponing an increase in the cap had real ramifications.
“This creates harmful delays and confusion for refugees who find themselves in vulnerable situations and want to reunite with their families,” Ms Ash said.
Christelle Igihozo, a student in Boise, Idaho, came to the United States in 2018 after escaping the Republic of the Congo as a child with her mother and four siblings.
As a resettlement assistant at the Boise International Rescue Committee branch, she said Friday she was afraid to tell families still waiting for loved ones that it may take longer to arrive.
“This is really frustrating and heartbreaking,” said Ms. Igihozo. “Biden had promised the numbers would go up.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported from Washington, and Miriam Jordan from Los Angeles. Emily Cochrane contributed to coverage from Washington.