What went wrong with the record number of refugee admissions to the United States? Not just Trump

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United States admitted only 11,411 refugees in fiscal year 2021, which ended Sept. 30, according to State Department records. More refugees – 53,716 – were admitted in fiscal year 2017 after Trump took office. For refugees and those maintaining the country’s beleaguered resettlement program, which had been supported by Biden’s pledge to reverse the Trump-era boundaries on refugees and immigrants, this is a blow.

Vignarajah says Trump-era budget cuts to the country’s resettlement infrastructure were likely the main factor behind last year’s low admissions. Resettlement agencies receive federal funding per refugee to assist with resettlement. With their funding evaporate, about 100 local resettlement offices in the United States have been forced to shut down or suspend their services. His own organization, LIRS, one of nine refugee resettlement agencies working with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, lost about a third of its footprint and had to close 17 offices across the country. Thanks to “extreme control” measures and staff cuts, the refugee admissions apparatus has been strained beyond its capabilities – the pandemic has also complicated logistics, including ongoing interviews. anybody.

But it wasn’t just the Trump administration that brought the resettlement of refugees to the United States to this point. Experts say the current administration has also made critical missteps in its own deployment, leaving tens of thousands of already approved refugees trapped in limbo.

“I don’t think the administration has moved quickly enough to prioritize building refugee resettlement infrastructure,” said Reva Dhingra, a PhD student at Harvard University who studies refugees and action. humanitarian. While the policies and budget cuts of the Trump era restricted every part of the resettlement pipeline, she said, the Biden administration has also been slow to deliver on its commitments.

In February, in his first foreign policy speech as president, Biden promised to raise the refugee ceiling to 125,000 during the financial year 2022. In the following days, the administration notified Congress that the State Department would allow up to 62,500 refugees for the 2021 fiscal year.

But for three months, the president did not officially approve a new cap to allow these admissions, thus maintaining Trump’s hard cap.

In the meantime, the State Department had to to cancel more than 715 refugee flights to the United States, organized in anticipation of the increase in the cap, although all of them have already been allowed to resettle. The government broke Biden’s promise to readjust Trump’s regional restrictions, which prohibited arrivals from 13 countries and targeted Muslim-majority and African countries. The government also failed to adjust the Trump-era refugee classification system, which prioritized Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. military and those facing religious persecution, effectively barring most refugees. Muslims and Africans to enter.

As of last spring, refugees and advocates eagerly awaited Biden’s approval of the revised admission goal.

“Every day that passes without a revised presidential ruling leaves hundreds of refugee families in limbo in refugee camps and many wait to be reunited with their loved ones here in the United States, waiting for us to keep our promise to protect.” , a coalition of refugee leaders wrote in a passionate plea to Biden.

In April, the administration announced that Biden would maintain heavily restricted Trump-era caps on refugee admissions and remove region-based resettlement caps from the Trump era, which critics had widely decried as discriminatory. The statement marked the first time a president has announced a lower refugee ceiling than that proposed to Congress.

Faced with a wave of fierce backlash from Democratic lawmakers and refugee advocates, the administration reversed Classes. In early May, Biden sign on a revised cap of 62,500.

“It is important to take this step today to dispel any lingering doubts in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much and who are eagerly awaiting the start of their new lives,” Biden said. noted, recognizing that the 62,500 was ambitious rather than realistic.

But for many refugees and defenders, the three-and-a-half-month delay was far from encouraging. No official rationale has emerged for the decisions, which supporters say seriously hampered the dynamics of refugee resettlement.

“The only explanation that seemed to be implicit was that they were worried about the optics with the border,” Dhingra said. Due to public panic over immigration at the US-Mexico border, she suggested, the White House may have been hesitant to increase the number of refugee admissions at the same time.

Although Biden’s press secretary denied any connection to the increase in migrant crossings at the southern border, The New York Times’ the report to revealed that Biden refused to raise the cap while juggling a border crisis.

The administration has put its refugee resettlement program on hold to prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans. Most Afghans have been admitted and treated in the United States under a temporary humanitarian parole program, separate from the refugee program.

For the current fiscal year, which began on October 1 and runs through September 30, 2022, the administration hopes to admit 125,000 refugees.

To have any chance of achieving this goal, experts say, the administration must act aggressively to overcome its backlog and expand its capacity. Vignarajah is pushing the administration to add overseas staff, organize more remote interviews and streamline its application process.

“We are regularly resettling families who have not just been waiting for protection for a few years,” she said. “In many cases, they’ve been waiting for a decade or two. We cannot lose a generation of refugee children because the system is backward and dysfunctional.

Aysha Khan is a reporter in Boston. It covers religion and culture with an emphasis on American Muslim communities.

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