Michelle Hackman and Tarini Parti, Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2021
President Biden is raising the refugee admissions cap to 125,000 for the government’s budget year beginning Oct. 1, the State Department confirmed Monday, in line with the goal he set during his 2020 campaign.
The move follows the blowback the president received earlier this year for backing away from his commitment to take in more refugees and, more recently, for the evacuation of U.S. allies from Afghanistan that turned chaotic and deadly in August after the capital fell to the Taliban.
“A robust refugee admissions program is critical to U.S. foreign policy interests and national security objectives, and is a reflection of core American values,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
During the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden administration evacuated tens of thousands of Afghan civilians—though only a fraction of them turned out to be applicants to the Special Immigrant Visa program designed for Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. military. A majority of those applicants were left behind.
So far, the U.S. has brought about 40,000 of those Afghan civilians to the U.S. As a result of the rapid nature of the evacuation, they weren’t formally classified as refugees. That has legal consequences for the Afghans: Unlike others who enter via the refugee admissions program, they don’t receive months of government benefits and don’t automatically qualify for a green card after a year.
The White House has asked Congress to change the law so the Afghans brought into the country on temporary humanitarian grounds can receive the same benefits as if they were legally refugees. That request has met some resistance among Republican lawmakers.
That technically also makes it appear as though the Biden administration has admitted the lowest number of refugees in the program’s 40-year history, with just 7,637 admitted over the past year from countries around the world.
Though the cap has been set to 125,000 for the coming fiscal year, the administration told Congress it foresees difficulty in reaching that number because of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. The administration said it would initially fund refugee operations in the U.S. and abroad to take in about 65,000 refugees for the year and will re-evaluate and possibly increase those funding levels over time.