Behind Biden’s Flip-Flop on Refugees

As soon as he announced that he would stick to the 15,000 number, Biden was subjected to intense pressure from advocates on the left. Yesterday he bowed to that pressure, announcing that the country would welcome 62,500 refugees in the coming six months. Who was leading the charge here, and how did they ultimately persuade the White House to change course?

There were a number of people who criticized the decision by the White House to keep that refugee cap. The White House did not expect the backlash, believing the public would focus on the removal of Trump-era restrictions that made it difficult for African refugees to come to the United States. Instead, Democrats in Congress, advocates and refugee-resettlement agencies blasted the administration for maintaining the cap.

It’s important to note that historically, presidents make the new cap official shortly after the official consultation with Congress. Biden had already delayed for well over a month, despite a plea from his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to make good on his commitment.

There is a difference between refugees, who are recognized by the international community as fleeing human-rights violations at home, and asylum seekers, who don’t always fit that description, but who make up a large share of the migrants arriving at the United States’ southern border. Will this decision have any impact on the fraught situation at the border?

Not immediately. As you note, we’re talking about two different immigrant populations here.

Refugees apply to come to the United States overseas and are subjected to a rigorous vetting process before they board the plane. Many of those at the border traveled from Central America and stepped on U.S. soil to ask for asylum.

The United States has long thought a strategy of discouraging migrants from making the dangerous journey to the border is providing more opportunities in Central America to apply for the refugee program — essentially allowing them to ask for protection in the United States but without leaving their home country. Raising the cap is a step toward that goal, but it will take awhile to develop the infrastructure.

The White House has clarified that although the 62,500 number matches the annual target Biden threw out during the campaign, it doesn’t expect to hit that number. It seems unlikely that there simply aren’t enough people fleeing danger in foreign countries to reach that limit. So what is preventing the United States from reaching its new cap?