Asked Tuesday when Biden will make good on his promise to restore refugee admissions, senior Democratic lawmakers said they don’t know when or what the reason is for the delay.
“They have consulted with us, talked about the numbers and their dramatic change in the Trump era. But in terms of the actual implementation of that, I don’t know their time table,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told HuffPost.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a leading critic of the Trump administration’s years-long war on refugee admissions, said she has heard “nothing” from the White House about the matter.
“I think they ought to put out a public assessment of where they are on these issues because people have different views based on different facts,” Feinstein added of the administration.
Nearly a month after announcing the administration’s plans to raise the refugee cap, Biden has yet to formally sign off on the higher cap including 125,000 for the next fiscal year and an additional 62,500 refugees to be admitted this year. Without Biden’s signature on it, refugee admissions are forced to abide by the record low cap set by former president Donald Trump and exclude refugees from several Muslim majority countries.
As of March, more than 700 refugees who had been approved and booked to arrive in the U.S. had their flights canceled at the last minute, and more cancellations are expected.
“The President is committed to strengthening the operations of the United States Refugee Admissions Program. While no firm numbers have been finalized, the President’s view is clear: This program will reflect the generosity and core values of the United States while benefiting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country,” a White House spokesperson told HuffPost in an email.
Asked about the refugee admissions cap, Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s coordinator for the southern border, told CNN, “I’m sure we will be acting on that ... but we’re doing so in a deliberate way.”
Refugees across the world sold their belongings and traveled for miles to escape perilous conditions in anticipation of boarding their flights only to be told to go back to refugee camps. Families in the U.S. also bought new apartments and furnishings in preparation for the arrivals of their loved ones who haven’t come.
Many refugees are operating on expiring medical and security clearances that will likely upend a refugee’s admission to the country if they don’t board a plane on time.
The cancellations also reignited severe mental and emotional anguish for families who had their flights canceled several times due to the pandemic and previous legal challenges caused by Trump.
“Every day the Biden administration lets this directive stand, it perpetuates the harm caused by former President Trump’s unlawful purpose of excluding Muslims,” said Justin Cox, the senior litigation attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project. “With the stroke of a pen, President Biden could immediately remedy some of the devastating effects the previous administration has had and help Muslim and other refugee families in need of protection.”
Biden has faced intensifying criticism ― including from some in his party ― over his handling of the surge of migrant children to the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration recently dispatched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help care for the growing number of children arriving at the border and opened a large convention center in Dallas to house them. Sensing a political opportunity, dozens of congressional Republicans have traveled to the border to highlight the situation, which they blamed on the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
When asked if he thought the border influx was a factor in the delay of restarting refugee admissions, Durbin said, “I don’t know what the logic is behind it.” He added he was eager to hear more from the Homeland Security Department.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another leading refugee advocate, said restarting U.S. admissions will be difficult regardless of when the cap is lifted due to the lack of funding for networks dedicated to the resettlement of families, such as nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups. He said the situation “deserves to be redressed and I’m confident that Congress and the administration will work through this together and we’ll change direction.”
But Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was a refugee in Kenya before she relocated to the United States, urged the Biden administration to do more to help refugees by lifting the cap.