Across the country, long-established agencies, faith-based and otherwise, spent most of the four years of the Trump administration laying off resettlement workers and closing local offices. To cite one such example: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had more than 70 refugee resettlement offices when Mr. Trump took office. Today, it has 40, and many of those have trimmed their staffs given the unprecedented cuts by the Trump administration, which slowed refugee admissions to a trickle. Nationwide, about a third of roughly 300 offices that provided resettlement services for refugees were shuttered during Mr. Trump’s time in office; hundreds of Americans, dedicated to helping desperate people from nations reeling from war and disaster to rebuild their lives, were laid off. That expertise has been lost and will take time to regain.
No group of immigrants to this country is more thoroughly vetted than refugees, who are screened by the United Nations and then intensely vetted by U.S. officials, often for years, before they are eligible for admission and selected for resettlement. Once they arrive, an extensive network of nonprofit organizations and volunteers hustle to help them with jobs, housing, language training, medical services and schools.
The number of people worldwide forcibly uprooted by war and other disasters has doubled over the past decade, to some 80 million — the most since the U.N. began systematically recording data on the problem. Of those, 26 million are refugees, driven from their home countries. The scale of suffering underscores the Trump administration’s abdication of leadership in an area where the United States was long a role model, with bipartisan support in Washington. In 2018, for the first time in decades, another country, Canada, resettled more refugees than the United States. In fiscal 2020, representing Mr. Trump’s final year in office, fewer than 12,000 refugees were admitted, down from nearly 85,000 in President Barack Obama’s final year.
Mr. Biden has his work cut out. Officials say he would like to increase refugee admissions in the current fiscal year, even before his new, higher target for admissions takes effect next fall. In fact, the obstacles posed by the pandemic may impede that goal.
Nonetheless, there is no overstating the goal’s symbolic and real importance. As the Biden administration sets about repairing the harm done by Mr. Trump to America’s prestige, few gestures will project renewed leadership as unambiguously as a robust and visible surge in refugee admissions. And no cohort of immigrants arrives with more drive and pluck than refugees have traditionally brought to the United States.