SAN DIEGO – Refugee admissions to the United States fell to an all-time high in fiscal year 2021, despite President Joe Biden’s pledge to reverse the dramatic cuts made by the Trump administration, figures show obtained by the Associated Press.
A total of 11,445 refugees were allowed entry into the United States in the fiscal year that ended Thursday, according to a person with access to information who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to disclose the figure.
This number does not include the tens of thousands of Afghans brought to the United States when American troops withdrew from Afghanistan, ending the 20-year war there. Many of these Afghans were allowed to enter the country under a different legal status known as humanitarian parole, which is why they are not included in the refugee count.
Still, the number highlights Biden’s challenges to reverse restrictive refugee policies framed by former President Donald Trump’s administration, which has targeted the program as part of a larger campaign to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the United States.
The US president sets the refugee admissions ceiling each fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30. Biden only took office almost four months after the start of the last fiscal year.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the number.
The total of 11,445 refugee admissions is well below the national ceiling of 62,500 for fiscal year 2021 set by Biden in May. It is also below the record high of 15,000 that Trump initially set for the year.
Biden initially indicated he would not exceed the cap of 15,000 people, saying in an emergency decision that it “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”
But it drew strong reprimands from Democratic allies who criticized him for failing to take the symbolic step of allowing more refugees this year. The White House quickly turned the tide and raised the cap, although Biden said at the time he didn’t expect the United States to hit the new 62,500 cap with just four months in it. ‘fiscal year 2021, given the ongoing restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic and the work the administration says is needed to rebuild the program.
Refugee advocates said the record number reflects the damage the Trump administration has done to the program. Prior to fiscal year 2021, the lowest number of refugees allowed was in fiscal year 2020, when the number reached 11,814.
The historical annual average was 95,000 under the previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
The Biden administration expanded narrow eligibility criteria put in place by its predecessor that had excluded most refugees, among other measures. But critics say that is not enough and that the Biden administration has acted too slowly.
It remains to be seen whether refugee admissions will reach the cap of 125,000 that Biden has set for the current fiscal year, which began on Friday.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine US agencies working on refugee resettlement, said efforts should be accelerated to add staff overseas, do more interviews remotely and reduce the huge backlog of refugee applications.
She said that although the program has been gutted by the Trump administration, it is now Biden’s responsibility to revive it.
“If we are to achieve President Biden’s goal of hosting 125,000 refugees, the administration must be aggressive and innovative to speed up processing,” she said in a statement.
Mark Hetfield of HIAS, another resettlement agency, agreed that Biden “should have done better.”
“What this record number really shows (…) is that the administration must remove red tape and other obstacles that prevent the resettlement program from responding effectively to emergencies like Afghanistan,” he said. declared.
Biden, who co-sponsored legislation creating the refugee program in 1980, said reopening the door to refugees was “how we will restore the soul of our nation.”