The new US administration ended up admitting a record low number of refugees despite promising to increase the cap. No one knew why - until now.
During his election campaign, President Biden had promised a quick and dramatic reversal of Donald Trump’s historically low cap on refugees.
But after almost four months in office, he's set to break Trump’s record that he once called “racist” on grounds that remained unexplained.
According to a New York Times report, Biden is personally behind the decision to admit fewer refugees than any modern American president, and his aides have covered it up by repeatedly stating that the president intended to follow through.
In a meeting on March 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked the president to allow refugees in the US, but Biden’s attitude was described as, “Why are you bothering me with this?” according to one of the people familiar with the exchange.
Currently, there are more migrant children and teenagers waiting at the US-Mexican border in over a decade - which only increases the pressure on Biden.
Deciding to backtrack from his campaign trail promise amid the struggle to manage the border crisis indicates what really mattered for the president, according to an account shared by more than a dozen administration and resettlement officials.
Real life consequences
The Biden administration initially had taken steps towards reversing its predecessor’s policies, but Biden kept delaying a final signature on “presidential determination”, or PD.
If actualised, the limit of 15,000 under president Trump would dramatically increase to at least 62,500 refugees. Instead, only 2,050 have been admitted to the US.
The administration’s vague policy has also put tens of thousands of people in limbo - some who were already cleared for resettlement are still barred from settling within the US. Flights expected to arrive in America with over 715 refugees have been cancelled until a new decision is reached by the president, one that has been met with international backlash.
In response, White House staff came up with a third plan that was announced on Friday. Meeting it halfway, the compromised plan preserves Trump’s limit, but lifts the restrictions that human rights organisations say particularly discriminate against a certain group of refugees.
“These categories are nothing short of discriminatory. And there’s no rational relationship between these categories and any security or other concern of the United States,” Nazanin Ash, the IRC’s vice president told the Washington Post.
“They were simply put in place by the Trump administration to restrict refugee admissions and in particular to restrict the admission of black, brown, Asian and Muslim refugees.”
The polished version of Trump’s plan, however, couldn’t convince human rights activists, and Democrats reacted to the decision, even though more diverse people consequently would enter the US.
After a backlash, the White House said an increased number would be announced by May 15. But even under the plan to be revealed next month, Biden’s initial goal of taking 62,500 people is unlikely to happen, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.