In fact, the claim at the heart of the administration’s rationale — that refugees are being admitted at a trickle because the government’s resources are overstretched — is false. The U.S. refugee program, which has thrived with bipartisan support for decades to legally resettle carefully vetted people fleeing the world’s most desperate places, has nothing to do with the current surge of asylum seekers crossing the southern border. By conflating the two, the administration emits a smokescreen to cover for its own squishy stance on immigration policy.
At the border, it is true that Mr. Biden has shifted policy in a more humane direction by allowing teenagers and other unaccompanied minors, along with some families, to enter the country and join their relatives here. That surge has indeed strained the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which houses and cares for them until they can be placed with their families. The ORR has even recruited personnel from other government departments to support the thousands of migrant youths stuck in detention centers as their relatives are contacted and checked.
But when it comes to the separate refugee program, the ORR acts mainly as a funding entity. ORR officials are not the boots on the ground in communities throughout the country where refugees are resettled and helped with jobs, schooling, language, health care and other needs. Those services are provided by nine nonprofit organizations that receive funding and oversight from the ORR and other agencies — and those funds are distinct from the money used for asylum seekers at the border.
By gutting the refugee program during four years in office, the Trump administration forced those organizations to close scores of resettlement offices across the country and lay off hundreds of employees. One of them, World Relief, shuttered nine of its 26 offices and dismissed more than a third of roughly 500 employees. That is a real capacity issue. Yet the way to resolve it, quickly, is for Mr. Biden to raise the admissions cap for the current fiscal year, as he pledged to do; that would promptly trigger federal funding for the resettlement groups, which could start hiring to handle a renewed flow of refugees. So far, Mr. Biden has refused to do so, though the White House says a higher cap will be set next month.
The administration’s disingenuous explanations mask what looks like political faintheartedness — a fear that Republicans will use immigration generally as a cudgel against the president. Yet if migrants are central to American values and tradition, as Mr. Biden says, there’s a way for him to demonstrate it: by showing resolve and sticking to his promises.