President Biden, Keep Your Promise to Refugees!

During the campaign, President Joe Biden promised to support refugee resettlement. He repeated the promise after his inauguration and sent a message to Congress saying he intended to increase the cap for this year to 62,500 and for next year to 125,000. He has not done so.  

Biden’s inaction is blocking his own policy and imposing more suffering on refugees who have already been vetted and approved to come. At the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell writes:

“So, roughly 715 desperate refugees whose travel arrangements were made by Biden’s own State Department — many of whom had given away their possessions and vacated their homes in anticipation of relocation — had their tickets abruptly canceled.

“At least one family in a Tanzanian refugee camp was booked on a flight for February and rescheduled for another flight in March, because Biden hadn’t completed his bureaucratic task in time for their original itinerary, according to the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit resettlement agency assigned to receive them in Idaho. Ultimately, their travel was canceled, a sign that even State Department officials hadn’t anticipated Biden’s repeated and unexplained paperwork delays. Many families had similar experiences during Trump’s presidency, when they were also booked and subsequently unbooked for flights.

“Which suggests how little has changed since Trump left office, despite Biden’s warm-and-fuzzy rhetoric.

“Asked repeatedly (by me and others) what accounts for Biden’s delay, White House officials have struggled to answer. Sometimes they try to blame Trumpcomplaining that his administration left a system in ‘disrepair’ that requires ‘rebuilding.’ No doubt, Trump wrought a lot of damage upon the immigration system, and more resources would be necessary to reach the much higher refugee admissions that Biden claims he wants for the next fiscal year (125,000); currently, there aren’t enough people sufficiently far along in the refugee-screening pipeline to meet that goal.

“But none of this explains why the few thousand already fully vetted and deemed ‘travel-ready’ by the State Department as of early March have not been allowed in. The only thing preventing their entry is Biden — who refuses to do the right thing and sign a simple document.”

The Religion News Service tells the same story: 

“In March alone, more than 700 refugees who were scheduled to arrive in the U.S. had their flights canceled, according to Refugee Council USA. The State Department had booked those flights based on Biden’s revised admissions goal.

“Among them were Basuze Madogo’s brother, his brother’s wife and other family members. Madogo, a resettlement specialist at World Relief Memphis, is a former refugee from Congo.

“He wasn’t the only one excited to welcome his brother and his family to Tennessee.

“’I could see how he was happy, and that was amazing. The entire community was informed, and they were planning to join us at the airport to welcome them,’ he said on the Refugee Council USA call.

“But then their flight was canceled. They already had moved out of the home they had been renting and given away many of the things they owned that they couldn’t bring with them to the U.S. Their medical clearances were set to expire within days.

“Now, Madogo said, ‘they have to start over new.’…

“Medical and security clearances are only good for two months before they expire, according to Yang of World Relief. If one of a refugee’s clearances expires, it can create a ‘revolving door’ as other family members’ clearances also expire while he or she tries to renew, she said.

“The Biden administration has not given a reason for the delay, according to Yang and other officials at some of the agencies the U.S. government contracts to resettle refugees. Six of those nine agencies are faith-based: World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Church World Service, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Episcopal Migration Ministries and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

These refugees have gone through all the legal processes. They spent years in refugee camps outside the United States. They applied. They waited. They had medical and security clearances, with multiple interviews and vetting by both U.N. and U.S. officials. They were approved to enter as legal refugees. 

Marcia Brown explains in American Prospect

“It takes on average three years to process, vet, and ready refugees for resettlement. According to Kekic, there’s a roughly six-week window in that three years where the paperwork is all up to date, as it changes daily. For those on the recently canceled flights, it may take months or years to update all the paperwork. ‘When you’re living in a refugee camp and you’re given a glimpse of what could be and then that’s taken away, it’s if not equivalent to their suffering in the first place, then close to it,’ Kekic said.”

I know President Biden has a full plate, with many demanding issues, but he already said he would sign the order admitting refugees. Instead of doing so, he has left in place Trump’s orders. The United States has admitted only 2,050 refugees since October 1. Refugee admissions under the Biden administration are even lower than at any time under the Trump administration.  

This is just wrong.

I tried calling the White House comment line. It was not open, but the recorded message said I should email my comment. I did. You can, too. 

Here’s the number for the White House comment line: 202-456-1111

Here’s the email form for the White House: www.whitehouse.gov/comment

Here’s the message I sent:

Please act today to sign the updated presidential determination for FY 2021, which would increase the refugee ceiling to 62,500. Your signature is needed to allow refugees, who have in many cases already been waiting for years or even decades, to finally find protection in the U.S.

Without your signature, these refugees risk losing everything as scheduled flights to bring them here are being cancelled. This delay is directly impacting the lives and safety of refugees around the world. Please act immediately to protect and save lives.

You promised. Keep your promise.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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