Shock: Biden decides to keep Trump's cap on refugees in place; Update: Biden reverses?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Righties are stunned at the news, lefties are enraged. “A major victory for Stephen Miller,” tweeted one New Republic writer forlornly.

Hard to argue, really.

Raising the cap on refugees was a core Biden campaign promise to progressives, part of a comprehensive effort to undo Trump’s immigration policies. Incensed at Trump’s short-lived policy of separating migrant families, they want MAGA-style restrictionism wiped completely away at DHS and replaced by a much more welcoming system. Biden’s already paid dividends for them on that by admitting thousands of unaccompanied minors and families with young children seeking asylum at the border last month. It seemed a cinch that he’d also upend Trump’s stingy policy on admitting refugees sooner rather than later. Refugees are among the most sympathetic people seeking entry into the United States since they’re at risk of death or persecution if they stay put. And the feds have a system in place to vet them thoroughly before they’re allowed to make the trip here in case they pose a safety risk of some sort.

It was a matter of time before Sleepy Joe opened the floodgates of refugees — or so Democrats thought. But his first month in office came and went and he issued no executive order. Then another month came and went, and nothing. Progressives began grumbling: What about refugees? Pressure began building again this week as the media started paying more attention to the issue. Where was the great liberalization on immigration policy for the neediest migrants that Biden promised during the campaign?

Today he finally acted. He’s loosening the restrictions Trump had imposed in order to provide more slots for refugees from Africa, Central America, and the Middle East. But he’s not increasing the number of slots. He’s sticking with Trump’s low-low cap of 15,000 per year, at least for now. The shock within political media of all stripes is universal.

President Joe Biden on Friday signed an emergency determination that officials said would speed refugee admissions to the U.S., but he did not immediately lift his predecessor’s historically low cap of 15,000 refugees for this year.

Biden, instead, is adjusting the allocation limits set by former President Donald Trump, which officials said have been the driving factor in limiting refugee admissions. The new allocations provide more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America, and lift Trump’s restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen…

Since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. A senior administration official said Biden’s new allocations could result in speedier admissions of already screened and vetted refugees in a manner of days.

A few months ago Biden told the State Department he was aiming to raise the annual cap to 125,000 beginning with the next fiscal year, which starts in October. Dems took that as a sign that he’d boost the cap to some middle-ground number for the current year, possibly 62,500, half the target total. Certainly he’d increase the cap somewhat from 15,000 just to prevent lefty critics from saying he’s every bit as bad as Trump on refugees.

But no. He’s sticking with Trump’s number. And bear in mind that he doesn’t need congressional approval to act here, which would have been a handy excuse for him. He can raise the cap by executive order. This isn’t a filibuster problem. This is all on Joe.

And it’s not going over well:

Why would he stick with Trump’s cap? The administration has offered various excuses. One came from Jen Psaki yesterday: “It took us some time to see and evaluate how ineffective, or how trashed in some ways the refugee processing system had become, and so we had to rebuild some of those muscles and put it back in place.” They just don’t have the institutional capacity at the moment to process refugees in bulk numbers, or so they’d have you believe. But, per CNN, that appears to be an overstatement. “[W]hile the program took a hit after years of historic low arrivals under Trump, there are refugees prepared to travel now,” the outlet noted. “Refugee resettlement agencies also tell CNN that they are ready to get to work, once the administration gives the go-ahead for more refugees.” The feds may not be ready yet for 125K but it seems like they’re ready for more than 15K.

Another potential excuse is that DHS and HHS are already overwhelmed at the moment managing the certainly-not-a-crisis at the border and don’t have the manpower to devote to processing refugees. But that excuse doesn’t wash either:

[T]he delay in officially designating the refugee admissions has already left hundreds of refugees cleared to travel to the United State stranded in camps around the world and infuriated resettlement agencies that accused Mr. Biden of breaking an earlier promise to restore the American reputation as a sanctuary for the oppressed.

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the decision-making, said the administration grew concerned that the surge of border crossings by unaccompanied minors was too much and had already overwhelmed the refugee branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. But migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.

The refugee system is on a totally different track from the asylum process at the border. The two have nothing to do with each other — policy-wise.

Politically, though, it’s a different story and that probably explains Biden’s bizarre reluctance to raise the cap. As CNN put it a few days ago, he’s worried about “optics.” At a moment when the Border Patrol is taking more people into custody than at any time in the past decade, with Biden’s job approval on immigration cratering because of it, the White House is jittery about opening up the tap on a different stream of migrants. Never mind that those people have applied legally, been checked out by federal authorities, and are patiently waiting abroad for the refugee process to resume. In other words, Biden’s going to punish refugees by making them stay put for no better reason than to do political damage control over the open-borders crisis he created for himself down south.

President Joe Biden has resisted signing off on raising the Trump-era refugee cap because of political optics, sources have told CNN…

The delay resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of refugee flights and left thousands of people expecting to arrive in the US after a years-long process in limbo.

Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization, shared the story of one nearly 30-year-old Congolese woman who had been vetted and approved to fly to the US in early March. When Biden’s signature didn’t come, her ticket was canceled, and because she is now in her third trimester, she can no longer travel.

WaPo’s sources also suspect it’s about optics. Even though the refugee system and the asylum system are separate and independent, “some in Biden’s orbit believe that nuance is lost on the public, particularly with conservative critics eager to portray Biden as soft on immigration.” Essentially Biden’s decided that he has to choose between, on the one hand, opening the southern border to minors and families with minors and on the other hand admitting refugees who have duly applied and been accepted by DHS for admission. And instead of choosing the migrants who’ve been vetted, the refugees, he’s choosing the people who just show up on the United States’s doorstep claiming asylum, possibly meritoriously and possibly not, and waving them through.

They told Republicans that if they voted for Trump we’d end up with a president who’s hostile to refugees. And they were right! Exit question: Why does Biden thinking admitting, say, 60,000 refugees in a *year* would be some big marginal loss for him politically when he admitted 70,000 or so asylum-seekers last *month*? If he’s going to keep the border open, refugees are a drop in the bucket.

Update: That didn’t take long. The avalanche of criticism has apparently prompted a change of heart at the White House. Note the last line of this statement.

A “final, increased cap” for the current fiscal year is coming by next month. I think this tweet might have been the final straw for them. When you’re a Democrat and Stephen Miller is quasi-endorsing your immigration policies, you’re in a jam.