The Biden administration announced on Monday that it will raise the refugee admissions cap to 125,000 in the upcoming 2022 fiscal year, fulfilling a key campaign promise by President Joe Biden that pledged to reverse historic cuts made by the previous administration. Just months before leaving office, the previous president slashed admissions to just 15,000, the lowest number yet in the refugee program’s history.
“We welcome an increased refugee admissions ceiling for next fiscal year given the urgent global need, keeping with President Biden’s campaign promise,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). “It is an important signal that the US remains committed to restoring its global humanitarian leadership. However, it must be accompanied by measures to make sure that actual admissions reach that target.”
LIRS cites the low number of families resettled in the U.S. during the current fiscal year. While the Biden administration raised the previous administration’s historically low cap for 2021 to 62,500 (it had initially backed down from the pledge, then returned to it following intense public backlash), only about 7,500 refugees have actually been welcomed here during that time. “Understandably, four years of the Trump administration’s assault on the refugee program coupled with pandemic challenges have hamstrung federal rebuilding efforts,” O’Mara Vignarajah said.
“Raising this cap without dedicating significant resources, personnel, and measures to streamline the process would be largely symbolic,” she continued, recommending an increase in processing officers. “If the pandemic poses challenges to doing so, the administration should implement 21st century solutions like remote interviews to ensure refugees move through the application pipeline,” she continued. “The world has largely adapted to the human realities of COVID-19; we must ensure refugee policy and programming does the same.”
CBS News reports a notification sent to Congress said the administration “plans to distribute 40,000 refugee spots for Africa, 35,000 for the Near East and South Asia, 15,000 for East Asia, 15,000 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 10,000 for Europe and Central Asia and 10,000 unallocated spots.” But remember, the U.S. is not actually obligated to reach that cap. Dozens of legislators led by Reps. Barbara Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have in recent weeks further called on the administration to take on a higher cap of at least 200,000 refugees, citing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and refugees displaced by climate change, among a number of other reasons.
“Increasing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs cap above 200,000 will mean that hundreds of thousands more people can escape danger to find greater security and hope in the United States,” they wrote. “Beyond Afghanistan, refugee crises are also ongoing in other parts of the world—especially as political violence erupts in Ethiopia, Lebanon faces economic collapse, and Haiti grapples with yet another devastating earthquake following the assassination of its president.”
“And as climate change accelerates, destroying homes and ruining crops, displacement is only on the rise,” they continued. “In the face of these overlapping crises, increased refugee protections are vital to ensuring that people can reach safety and rebuild their lives.”
The New York Times reports that tens of thousands of Afghan allies and families who have been swiftly evacuated to the U.S. following Operation Allies Rescue are not considered a part of the official refugee number, most having arrived through humanitarian parole. Our nation must ensure they have permanent relief. But we also have a duty to honor both our refugee and asylum systems, with lawmakers and advocates demanding the administration stop blocking Haitians currently at the southern border from their fundamental right to seek asylum, as well as calling on officials to halt cruel deportation flights taking place this week.
“We have a moral obligation to lead with compassion,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. “That means immediately halting the cruel and callous deportations of our Haitian neighbors and leveraging every resource available to support those fleeing the humanitarian crisis on the island.”
“As a former refugee, I am excited to hear the administration’s decision to increase the [Presidential Determination] for the 2022 fiscal year,” said Opportunity For All member Kayo Beshir in a statement received by Daily Kos. “With more people being displaced around the world than ever before, I believe increasing the PD numbers is a great first step to our commitment to refugees. I urge the administration to not continue dragging their feet towards this vulnerable population and instead immediately double down efforts to rebuild the U.S. refugee resettlement program that was completely ravaged by the previous administration.”
“I am glad to hear that the Biden administration announced the refugee admissions at 125,000; however, this is only the first step,” said Fereshteh Ganjavi, former refugee from Afghanistan and executive director of advocacy group Elena’s Light. ”We need an annual refugee cap that reflects our moral obligation with the Afghan people. Raising the annual refugee admissions to 200,000 is the only appropriate response and would drastically change the lives of many vulnerable Afghan people including: women, children, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ and the elderly.”
Like Ganjavi noted, the official announcement is just one step. Now we must carry out that pledge. “It bears repeating that refugees make our nation stronger in innumerable ways, and welcoming them embodies the best of the American spirit,” O’Mara Vignarajah concluded in her statement. “We have a unique opportunity to build back the refugee program to meet the unprecedented need—with so many lives on the line, we must seize it.”