- The United States resettled just 271 refugees in April, according to new data from the State Department.
- The US has thus far resettled 2,334 refugees in the current fiscal year, an historic low.
- President Biden recently raised the admissions cap to 62,500, but warned he would not meet that goal.
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The United States resettled only 271 refugees in April, according to new data from an organization within the US State Department, putting the country on track to accept fewer than 5,000 displaced persons before the current fiscal year ends in September – an historic low.
Just under 12,000 refugees were resettled in the last full fiscal year of the previous administration, down from an average of about 80,000.
From last October through April 30 the US had resettled 2,334 refugees, according to the data released Thursday.
President Joe Biden campaigned on revitalizing the refugee admissions program, promising to reverse the cuts made by his predecessor who campaigned against accepting people fleeing war and repression – and launched racist attacks against those already here. In Biden’s first full fiscal year, which starts October 2021, the president has committed to resettling as many as 125,000 refugees.
But the number of people resettled has declined each month that Biden has been in office. And the administration recently waffled on just how many refugees it planned to accept this year.
After first saying it would find new homes for 62,500 people this fiscal year, in an April notice to Congress the White House elected not to touch the cap of 15,000 set by the last occupant of the White House; its new position was that it would only consider raising that number should the limit be reached.
After a backlash, President Biden announced on May 3 that he would be committing to his previous goal. Still, he added, “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,5000 admissions this year,” saying his administration needs time “to undo the damage of the last four years.”
He’s not wrong. By all accounts, the resettlement program – which relies on the assistance of nine nongovernmental organizations to place refugees in their new communities, setting them up with homes and careers – was nearly obliterated.
“It was really challenging,” Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, a Christian charitable organization, said of the previous four years. Her group closed a third of its offices, including ones that “had been in certain communities for over 20 years,” letting go dozens of staffers. It will need time to rebuild.
But Yang, like many others who work with refugees, was disappointed when the Biden administration appeared to let the politics of immigration – Republicans capitalizing on the increase in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum – overwrite its previously stated committement to letting in refugees that the last White House kept out. It was not just confused messaging, she said of the back and forth, but a mark of indecision.
“It started to become a little bit overwhelmed at what was happening at the border, and it led to them backtracking on their promise,” she said.
World Relief is under “no illusion” that it and other aid groups will resettle some 60,000 refugees before October. But without an aspirational goal, you are not only guaranteed not to exceed expectations, but signal that refugees are not a priority, both to the world and to the bureaucracy that needs to be kicked into gear.
Last month’s resettlement figures, perhaps, reflect the confusion at the White House. With a clear goal, it is possible there will now be an acceleration.
“I think now we’re in a good place,” Yang said, “and we’re hopeful that we can really build back the program better than it was before.”
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