A rally challenging the Trump Administration’s restrictions on refugees
Retreating within hours, the White House says it will allow more refugee admissions into the US.
Early on Friday, officials said President Joe Biden would maintain the historic low of 15,000 admissions set by the Trump Administration.
The announcement scrapped Biden’s promise to accept 62,500 people fleeing war and persecution. Democrats and human rights activists protested, and the White House soon pledged to announce an increase by May 15.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not give a specific number, although she said the promise of 62,500 — announced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Congress on February 12, citing “grave humanitarian concerns” — was “unlikely”. She said the Administration faced the “decimated refugee admissions program” of the Trump years.
Even though refugees are in a different category from migrants, “two senior Administration officials” said Biden was concerned that a raised limit would strain a US system facing a surge in people trying to cross the southern US border.
“We Cannot Turn Our Back on Refugees”
About 33,000 refugees have been vetted and are ready to enter the US. Many are in camps from Kenya to Tanzania to Jordan.
In its final year, the Obama Administration’s quota was 110,000. With alt-right “nationalist” Steve Bannon and anti-immigrant advisor Stephen Miller driving policy, Donald Trump immediately reduced that to 50,000. Later cuts dropped the ceiling to 15,000.
The White House’s directive on Friday altered the Trump program, which gave priority for the restricted admissions to Iraqis who worked for the US military and to people, mainly Christians, facing religious persecution. Muslim and African refugees were disqualified.
The Biden Administration’s approach will be regional quotas: 7,000 Africans; 1,000 East Asians; 1,500 Europeans and Central Asians; 3,000 Latin Americans and Caribbeans; and 1,500 fleeing the Near East and South Asia. There are 1,000 at-large places.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted:
America needs to rebuild our refugee resettlement program. We will use all 15,000 slots under the new Determination and work with Congress on increasing admissions and building back to the numbers to which we’ve committed.
— Jake Sullivan (@JakeSullivan46) April 16, 2021
During the Trump years, refugee officers were reassigned from posts abroad that were closed. Travel has been restricted during the Coronavirus pandemic, and resettlement offices in the US have been shut.
Officials said an increase in refugees was also hindered by dedication of resources to find shelter for the increased number of migrants since January, including an emphasis to get them out of the detention centers favored in Trump’s “zero tolerance” program.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, challenged that explanation: “These are two completely distinct pathways and programs.. America has always been able to walk and chew gum.”
Before the White House shift, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington challenged, “President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity. We cannot turn our back on refugees around the world.”