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Biden flip-flops on refugee policy after blowback for keeping Trump-era restrictions

Friday saw the Biden administration giving mixed messages on refugee admission. After receiving blowback for keeping the historically low refugee cap set by President Trump, the White House quickly reversed its position, and said it will move to lift them. Yamiche Alcindor has more on the flip-flop, and discusses it with Jenny Yang, the vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today saw the Biden administration giving mixed messages on whether it would leave historically low caps on refugees put in place by former President Trump.

    Yamiche Alcindor has more.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Biden walked back an earlier promise to raise the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States.

    I'm joined now by Jenny Yang. She is the vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, a humanitarian nonprofit.

    Jenny Yang, thanks so much for joining us.

    Just walk us through what happened today with these twists and turns on the refugee cap.

  • Jenny Yang:

    Well, earlier today, the president signed a presidential determination that basically kept the low refugee cap of 15,000 for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and this is a number that was previously set by President Trump, but which President Biden himself decided to keep.

    Now, the one change he did make was to revise the program to expand the categories through which refugees are actually eligible to come into the program. But the fact that he kept the refugee ceiling at the historically low level of 15,000 is very, very concerning, because it does mean that refugees will continue to be excluded from the program, even though many of them have been waiting many, many years to come in.

    Now, the White House just recently issued a statement saying that 15,000 is not the final number for this fiscal year. But it is very concerning, because the president himself said that he would actually raise the refugee ceiling to 62,500. And we're still waiting for him to follow through on that commitment.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Talk about the impact this has on the lives of migrants who are waiting to try to come to the United States as refugees.

  • Jenny Yang:

    Well, refugees is a very small subset of the larger immigrant population, in that you have to have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

    And once you meet that definition, you're referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. And at a time when we're facing the world's worst refugee crisis, the U.S. resettles less than half of 1 percent of the world's refugees, which means that this very narrow lifeline of protection needs to be not only preserved, but expanded to really help those individuals who cannot go home or locally integrate.

    Historically, the United States has had a refugee ceiling on average of 95,000 refugees per year. So, the fact that the refugee ceiling is 15,000 means that it's not only the lowest number ever set in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, but it effectively shuts out many deserving refugees from being able to be reunited with their loved ones in the United States.

    And just as an example, one of our staff members, Bazuze (ph), is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. And he was resettled several years ago, but his brother has been waiting for his wife to be reunited with him. And she was on a flight to come to the United States. So, she sold all of her belongings and was waiting to board a flight, when the flight was canceled because the president didn't sign the necessary paperwork to revise the ceiling.

    And so she actually had to go back into the refugee camp where she is right now. And we still don't know yet if she will be rebooked to come to the United States.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, lastly, with only the few seconds we have left here, the Biden administration was saying that this had to be kept lower because of the surge at the border.

    What do you make of that argument?

  • Jenny Yang:

    That is not a good reasoning, because the Refugee Admissions Program is run by the State Department. They have a completely different funding stream.

    And agencies like World Relief and other resettlement agencies are prepared and necessary to actually welcome refugees. The issue at hand is not capacity or resources. It's ultimately a matter of political will and the courage to actually up the refugee ceiling to actually help those who really have nowhere else to go.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you so much for joining us, Jenny Yang of World Relief.

  • Jenny Yang:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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