The Biden administration has raised the number of refugees the United States resettles each year from the record lows of the Trump administration, but human rights advocates say unless officials “act expeditiously,” they will not reach the 62,500 refugee ceiling by October.
“Despite the Biden administration raising the admissions ceiling and removing restrictive eligibility categories, as of this week, the U.S. has only resettled 3,600 refugees this fiscal year,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Vignarajah told VOA the administration is “undoubtedly making progress,” but there is still a long road ahead to rebuild the U.S. refugee program.
Rights groups say that over the past 30 years, the U.S. has resettled about 95,000 refugees on average each year. An International Rescue Committee — YouGov public opinion poll released this week suggested 56% of Americans think that should be the minimum number, but experts say it could take years to again reach that many annual arrivals.
“Under the previous administration, we witnessed year after year of record-low admission ceilings. As a direct result, more than 100 local resettlement sites were forced to either suspend services or shut down entirely. A system that took 40 years to build was devastated in just four years,” Vignarajah said.
In fact, a new report recently released by rights organization Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) made several recommendations to the Biden administration, including the expansion of a community sponsorship system along with a private sponsorship program to better support refugee resettlement in the country.
“The Biden administration should take this moment to reassert U.S. leadership by meeting its promise to rebuild the refugee program,” the AIUSA report says.
A Biden official said in a statement the U.S. is working together with federal, state and local partners to carry out the president’s executive orders and restore the nation’s refugee admissions and resettlement program.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Tracy Renaud said the agency, in charge of processing and adjudicating various immigration cases, “stands proud of the role we play ensuring that those eligible for refuge will continue to find a safe haven in the United States.”
Earlier in his term, President Joe Biden signed an executive order keeping the admission of refugees capped at 15,000 for fiscal 2021, a number set by the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Following criticism from Democratic allies and human rights advocates, Biden raised the cap to 62,500 for this fiscal year.
According to sources familiar with the data, there are currently about 2,800 people considered “ready for departure” to the U.S. and more than 78,000 in various stages of the U.S. resettlement process overseas.
The U.S. Department of State declined to comment on refugee resettlement numbers.
In 2019, House Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, and Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced the Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement Act or GRACE Act, which would set the refugee cap to at least 95,000.
Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during an interview with VOA said leadership and “political will” around the globe is necessary to ensure that protection is provided to those fleeing dangerous situations.
“Unfortunately, the plight of refugees and people displaced has been mixed up, conflated with the general migration — which of course is also very, very large — but refugees do form a very special group. They're fleeing violence and persecution, discrimination, and criminal gangs, and they do, as a matter of law and policy, need the support, but you need the political leadership,” Triggs said.
And the latest UNHCR numbers show there are more than 82 million forced displaced people worldwide, while 68% of all refugees displaced abroad come from five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar) and South Sudan.
Celia Mendoza contributed to this report