The U.S. had record-low refugee admissions for the fiscal year with 11,411, far below the 62,500 cap President Joe Biden set in May, the Associated Press reported.
The previous low was 11,814 in 2020. The Biden administration said on Tuesday that the low numbers were due to the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulty reversing the policies of former President Donald Trump’s administration.
While AP reported a figure of 11,445 refugee admissions, the State Department had a figure of 11,411 for the budget year that ended last Thursday.
The 11,411 admissions total falls below the ceiling of Trump’s 15,000. Trump’s cap was set for the 2021 budget year, which began October 1, 2020. The president determines the cap on refugee admissions for each budget year, which runs from October 1 to September 30.
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The refugee tally did not include the tens of thousands of Afghans brought to the United States as American troops withdrew from Afghanistan as many Afghans were allowed into the country under humanitarian parole status.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Record-low number of refugees to the US
During the just-ended fiscal year, a record-low number of refugees were admitted to the United States. Above, Haitian migrants use a dam to cross into the United States from Mexico in Del Rio, Texas. Eric Gay/AP Photo
The number highlights Biden’s challenges in reversing the restrictive refugee policies set by Trump’s administration, which targeted the program as part of a broader campaign to slash both legal and illegal immigration to the United States.
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Biden, who co-sponsored legislation creating the refugee program more than four decades ago, has said reopening the door to refugees is “how we will restore the soul of our nation.”
The State Department said the record-low number reflects the damage done by the Trump administration to the program, while the administration’s rebuilding efforts were curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic that in many cases prevented officers from doing in-person interviews abroad, among other things.
The State Department said it is planning a “robust resumption of interviews” both in-person and virtually and it has requested more referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The department underscored that the government is also resettling tens of thousands of Afghans who were part of one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history in the chaotic days following Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban this summer.
“The rebuilding process is well underway and will enable us to support much increased admissions numbers in future years,” the department said in an email to AP.
Biden initially indicated he would not override Trump’s 15,000-person cap in 2021, saying in an emergency determination that it “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”
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But that brought sharp rebuke from Democratic allies who criticized him for not taking the symbolic step of authorizing more refugees this year. The White House quickly reversed course and raised the cap, though Biden said at the time that he did not expect the U.S. would meet the new 62,500 ceiling with only four months left in the 2021 budget year amid a pandemic.
The Biden administration has expanded the narrow eligibility criteria put in place by his predecessor that had kept out most refugees, among other steps. But critics contend it’s not been enough.
The administration plans to set a cap of 125,000 admissions for this budget year, which started Friday. That would exceed the historical yearly average that was 95,000 under previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine U.S. agencies working to resettle refugees, said to reach that goal “the administration must be aggressive and innovative in ramping up processing.”
Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, said it will require more federal support of resettlement agencies. The administration is requesting $1.7 billion for refugee resettlement this budget year, up from last year’s $966 million.
“The Biden administration has its work cut out to return the United States to a position of leadership when it comes to welcoming people seeking refuge,” Noorani said