Biden minced no words about the reversing refugee policy set under the former guy. “It’s a statement about who we are, and who we want to be. So we are going to rebuild what has been broken and push hard to complete the rigorous screening process for those refugees already in the pipeline for admission.”
The statement was needed, but Biden also made clear that the numbers are a cap and not a prediction of how many refugees will be let in. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway,” he said. “We have reopened the program to new refugees. And by changing the regional allocations last month, we have already increased the number of refugees ready for departure to the United States.” Biden emphasized the refugees are “fully vetted,” a critical difference from the asylum seekers congregating along the border.
Immigrant advocacy groups breathed a collective sigh of relief. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the nation’s largest faith-based nonprofit serving refugees, praised the move: “The new admissions ceiling reflects our core values as a welcoming nation, and finally aligns public policy with the unprecedented global need of millions forced from their home by violence, war, and persecution.” She added, “As leader of the free world, the United States has a moral obligation to address this crisis — it’s incredibly heartening to once again see an administration who takes our nation’s humanitarian responsibilities seriously.” Vignarajah also made clear that the refugee program is supported by an army of humanitarian groups that work on resettlement and provide services for refugees.
The announcement came on the same day that the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would be reuniting four migrant parents with their children after the previous administration had separated them at the U.S.-Mexico border. Although the number is tiny, it is another sign this administration intends to remove the blight of the inhumane and ineffective policy.
In addition to these moves, the administration moved about 84 percent of unaccompanied minors out of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities in recent weeks, a sharp turnaround from the chaotic situation that garnered much media attention. The achievement has been underreported, to put it mildly.
There remains a deep partisan divide on immigration generally. According to polling from the Pew Research Center released on Monday, “Republicans are more likely than Democrats to consider an increase in resources for patrolling the border very important (68% vs. 42%, respectively), while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say increased resources for processing unaccompanied minors is very important (66% vs. 37%).” Far fewer Republicans (40 percent) than Democrats (79 percent) want to spend money to address the root of the problem in Central America. Republicans overwhelmingly want to make it harder for migrants to seek asylum (78 percent), in contrast to Democrats (39 percent).
The vast number of Americans want to allow those here illegally to remain (69 percent), either through a path to citizenship (42 percent) or to legal residence (26 percent), but support for such policy has dropped precipitously among Republicans, from 61 percent in 2017 to 48 percent now.
The Biden administration faces the unenviable task of cleaning up the humanitarian and administrative disaster inherited from the previous administration. If Biden can repair both the asylum system at the border and the refugee program, he might gain momentum to tackle other issues such as crafting a permanent solution for the “dreamers.” But with one party now in the throes of white supremacy and “replacement theory,” opposition from Republicans in Congress will be intense. Today’s GOP simply does not believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and a beacon of hope to the world.