Photo: Ilias Bartolini, 2015. Creative Commons License 2.0

President Joe Biden announced yesterday that he was raising the number of people the US would admit under its refugee resettlement program, eliminating the record-low Trump limits on refugee admissions. The new refugee cap of 62,500 for the rest of fiscal 2021, Biden said, "erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America's values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees."

The new refugee goal should have been a routine announcement that the White House was following through on a campaign promise to return US refugee admissions to pre-Trump levels. Back in February, the administration had said it intended to admit up to 62,500 refugees this year, then in 2022 boost that to 125,000 a year going forward. But then a lot of unaccompanied minors began showing up at the southern border, Republicans treated it like the biggest disaster in history, and the media bought into all the "crisis" talk. And apparently, so did Biden, briefly; in April, the administration announced that it would actually keep Trump's 2021 cap until the end of the fiscal year (September 30), but would adjust the limit upward if more than 15,000 refugees were actually ready to come to the US.

That seeming abandonment of the promise to do better than Trump lasted only a few hours, which was long enough to cause some refugees to cancel flights to the US, and to piss off pretty much all the refugee advocates. Not long after, the administration said it would announce a new, higher refugee ceiling in May, and here we are with that announcement. Good. Sometimes presidents need to be reminded of their commitments.

Hey, this is probably a good place to remind y'all that "refugee status" and "asylum" are two different things, at least in legal terms, especially because wingnuts and immigrant-haters are always happy to confuse the two. An asylum seeker is someone who arrives in a new country and asks to be allowed in because they've fled a terrible situation in their home country. That's essentially who the folks arriving at the US-Mexico border are. Refugees, on the other hand, are also people who have fled their home countries because of war or other horrors, but they have applied through the United Nations for refugee status. By the time they're considered for admission to the US, they've gone through several levels of vetting, first through the UN and then through the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. So while you may see casual references to "refugees" at the southern border, they're actually asylum seekers. The distinction is worth noting because the laws governing the two ways of coming to the US are different.

But apparently, the GOP and Fox News screaming about the border "crisis" led Biden to waffle on actually announcing the higher refugee cap, even though Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged him to follow through.

While we're at it, let's also point out that the "border crisis" has largely evaporated as the administration increased Health and Human Services' ability to process the unaccompanied teens. While more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors were crowded into Border Patrol facilities in March, that number was down to just 600 by Monday.

In his statement yesterday, Biden emphasized the same point that the administration had made last month: Getting America's refugee resettlement infrastructure up and running again is going to take time, after Trump, Stephen Miller, and the rest of those jerks took a sledgehammer to it:

The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway. We have reopened the program to new refugees. And by changing the regional allocations last month, we have already increased the number of refugees ready for departure to the United States.

He went on to say that the US may not meet the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions for fiscal 2022, but that his administration will "use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries." He also said that formally increasing the ceiling on refugee admission sent a vital message,

to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin.

Predictably, the very worst xenophobes are already at it, like Tom Cotton, who whined on Twitter yesterday that the increased refugee numbers would "put American jobs and safety at risk." That, of course, is some bullshit, as the New York Times pointed out, since there are "multiple studies showing that immigrants work jobs that employers historically struggle to fill."

And now, some of the same advocates who had pressured Biden to reverse the decision to keep refugee numbers at Trumpian levels are now congratulating Biden on getting it right — with qualifications:

"We are relieved that the Biden administration has, after a long and unnecessary delay, kept its promise to raise the refugee admissions cap for this year to 62,500," Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America's global policy lead, said in a statement. "This announcement means the United States can finally begin to rebuild the life-saving refugee resettlement program and welcome the tens of thousands of people who have been left stranded by four years of the Trump administration's xenophobic policies and three months of the Biden administration's inaction."

We love ya, Joe. But we're gonna keep on you, too.

[CNN / White House / Politifact / NYT / NPR / Photo: Ilias Bartolini, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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