However, Biden has yet to do one thing that would make all of those changes official: sign what is known as a presidential determination. Without that action, Trump’s old policies and his 15,000-person cap on refugee settlements remain in effect.
Signing a presidential determination typically takes place almost immediately after such policy announcements. The delay has so far lasted eight weeks.
Because of it, Biden is on track to accept the fewest refugees this year of any modern president, including Trump, according to a report released Friday from the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit humanitarian aid group.
The Biden administration has admitted only 2,050 refugees at the halfway point of this fiscal year, despite Biden’s promises to reverse Trump-era immigration policies, dramatically raise the cap on refugee settlements and respond to what his officials have called “unforeseen and urgent situations,” the IRC report noted.
The group estimated that, at the current pace and without the reversal of Trump-era policies, the Biden administration will admit only about 4,510 refugees into the United States this fiscal year, less than half of the figure admitted in Trump’s final year.
“I don’t know the specific reason why [Biden] hasn’t signed, and it’s really unusual that he hasn’t signed,” said Nazanin Ash, the IRC’s vice president for global policy and advocacy. “It is typically a standard, automatic last step in the process.”
A State Department representative on Sunday referred all questions about the presidential determination on refugee admissions to the White House. A White House spokesperson on Monday said Biden was committed to strengthening the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, though no firm numbers had been finalized.
Roberta Jacobson, the White House border coordinator who is leaving her post at the end of the month, indicated in March that the administration would dismantle Trump’s policies “in a deliberate way.”
The IRC report criticized the delay as “unexplained” and “unjustified,” particularly amid worsening refugee crises in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It also said the administration was neglecting to use refugee resettlement as a “critical tool” to address the sharp increase in migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. This fiscal year, the United States has admitted only 139 refugees from the “Northern Triangle” countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“With more than 1.4 million refugees in need of resettlement worldwide and fewer than 1 percent of all refugees ever considered for this life-saving program, no admissions slot should go unfilled,” the report said.
It also noted that Muslim refugees continue to be disproportionately affected by the Trump policies that remain in place, especially Syrian refugees who were already the group most affected by Trump’s low refugee admissions cap. Under the Biden administration, only 42 Syrian refugees have been resettled to the United States this fiscal year.
“These categories are nothing short of discriminatory. And there’s no rational relationship between these categories and any security or other concern of the United States,” Ash said. “They were simply put in place by the Trump administration to restrict refugee admissions and in particular to restrict the admission of black, brown, Asian and Muslim refugees.”
Among groups that work with refugees, Ash said Biden’s delay was met with confusion at first, followed by a “deep concern” as days turned into weeks. Refugees who initially cheered Biden’s policy changes — and in many cases who began upending their lives again to finally move to the United States because they thought they had received the green light — were left in the lurch and have been for two months.
“As a result, tens of thousands of already-cleared refugees remain barred from resettlement and over 700 resettlement flights have been cancelled, leaving vulnerable refugees in uncertain limbo,” the report said.
Biden’s discretionary budget for fiscal 2022, released last week, includes a request for $4.3 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and $345 million for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to support an increased refugee cap, as well as $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to support vulnerable populations abroad.
However, refugee advocates say those in limbo often cannot afford to wait weeks, let alone months, until the next fiscal year.
Last week, more than 100 state and local elected officials signed a letter urging Biden to immediately sign the presidential declaration and raise the country’s refugee settlement cap to 62,500 for the second half of the fiscal year.
“At least 80 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes and among them are more than 29 million refugees,” the letter stated. “Despite this, only a tiny fraction will ever be afforded the chance for resettlement to a third country, like the United States. Now is the time for your administration to fulfill its commitment to human rights and refugee protection; only then can we urge the global community to also do their part.”