US keeps target admissions for refugees at 125,000

Move comes despite pressure from refugee advocates to raise the limit as record numbers of people flee war and persecution.

People in support of rights for asylum seekers rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
People in support of rights for asylum seekers rally as the US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in President Joe Biden's bid to rescind a Trump-era immigration policy that forced refugees and migrants to stay in Mexico to await US hearings on their asylum claims, in Washington, DC, the US, April 26, 2022 [File: Elizabeth Frantz/ Reuters]

The United States says it is keeping its cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

The announcement on Tuesday came despite pressure from advocates to allow more refugees entry, as record numbers of people flee their homes because of war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and other emergencies have pushed the displacement figure above “the dramatic milestone of 100 million” this year.

Refugee advocates have been pushing the administration of US President Joe Biden to do more to restore the 40-year-old Refugee Admissions Program, which was gutted under the Trump administration when admissions were slashed to a record low of 15,000.

After taking office, Biden quadrupled the number of refugee admissions permitted for the remaining months of the 2021 budget year.

He then set the target at 125,000 for the 2022 budget year, which ends on September 30.

But despite raising the number and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, the Biden administration has struggled to make progress on the programme.

So far, fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted. That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the US via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee programme but only allows for stays of up to two years.

Refugees are provided with a path to permanent residency.

In his presidential determination, Biden said the 125,000 target was “justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest”. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine. The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.

In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “this ambitious target demonstrates that the United States is committed to rebuilding and strengthening the US Refugee Admissions Program” through various means. He pointed to plans for a pilot programme that is expected to get underway by the end of the year that will allow Americans to sign up to resettle refugees in their communities, much like US citizens did in stepping up to help Afghans and Ukrainians over the past year.

Traditionally, refugees are placed in communities by nine refugee resettlement agencies.

“Our refugee admissions program embodies the best of American values and the will to help those in need, and it will continue to provide access to resettlement as a lifesaving, durable solution,” Blinken said.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration had to do more to improve its refugee programme.

“While humanitarian parole was a valuable stopgap measure to provide temporary protection to Afghans and Ukrainians, it’s no substitute for the full resettlement services and permanent residence that refugee status offers,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter. “As a result of prioritizing parole over rebuilding the refugee program, displaced children and families of many nationalities continue to languish in years-long backlogs.”

The Biden administration must see its “refugee commitments to fruition” this year, she said.

“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies