President Biden Keeps Refugee Numbers at Record Lows Due to Political Pressure

On April 16, 2021, President Biden signed an order limiting U.S. refugee admissions to 15,000 despite previously promising to increase the refugee admissions to 62,500 in this fiscal year and promising in February to raise the admissions rate to 125,000. This cap on admissions matches President Trump’s historical low in 2020, where actual refugee admissions were 11,814, also a historical low.

In comparison, President Obama admitted 85,000 refugees in 2016, and the lowest total refugee admissions during his two terms occurred in 2011, where he admitted 56,424 refugees. Prior to President Trump, the lowest historical cap on refugee admissions was 67,000. The greatest numbers of refugees admitted was in 1980, where President Carter admitted 207,116 refugees. For the most part, both the ceiling and the actual admission rates of refugees have decreased over time.

Under Biden’s new plan, the 15,000 slots would be allocated the following way: 7,000 for Africa, 1,000 for East Asia, 1,500 for Europe and Central Asia, 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 1,500 for the Near East and South Asia, and 1,000 for an unallocated reserve.

Many have criticized the President Biden’s new plan. Refugee advocates have pointed out that over 35,000 refugees have already been vetted and cleared for entry to the United States. The White House has said that admitting any refugees is difficult due to the large influx of unaccompanied minors at the southern border. Since taking office in January, the amount of border apprehensions has been surging, reaching over 172,000 in March 2021. By comparison, there were only about 32,000 apprehensions at the border in 2020. Of the persons being apprehended in 2021, approximately 50,000 have been unaccompanied minors and over 90,000 have been members of a family unit.

The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement personnel handles both minors apprehended at the border and refugees relocating to the United States, which could have posed a logistical complication if refugee admissions were increased. However, Biden had other options available to him, and, by failing to increase refugee admissions, he could be compounding the crisis at the southern border. For starters, having restored President Obama’s Central American Minor’s (CAM) refugee program, President Biden could have chosen to expand upon it, offering a safer pathway for children abroad to apply for legal status in the United States. Instead, crossing the southern border will continue to be seen as the only viable path for Central American minors escaping gang violence, extreme poverty, domestic violence, extortion, and persecution on account of sexual orientation.


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