Democrats are pushing the administration to explain why President Joe Biden has not signed paperwork raising the cap on the number of refugees allowed in the United States, which has put hundreds in limbo even as the Biden administration had promised to reverse former President Donald Trump’s policies.
The concern comes as the White House is dealing with an influx of migrants on the southern border and as Republicans are attacking Biden on his handling of the issue.
The Biden administration announced back in February it would raise the ceiling on the number of refugees coming into the United States from 15,000, a low during the Trump administration, to 62,500. They also announced they would change who would be eligible to come. But, the formal paperwork, which must be signed by the President, has gone unsigned.
“I wish (Biden) would do it. Obviously, we need to establish as much normality as we can at the border and – to have a normal process is the better way to go,” Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, told CNN. “I know we’ve communicated with the White House as recently as yesterday, so I know they know our concern.”
Cardin said that he did not know, but was guessing that the issue on the Southern border was taking precedent even though the border issues are separate from the country’s refugee program.
“I think they are recognizing that they have the immediate concern on how to deal with children,” Cardin said. “They are not happy they have the remnants of the Trump policies.”
CNN reported earlier this month that the lack of a signature had resulted in hundreds of refugees being taken off of flights on which they had been booked because the paperwork had not been completed.
“He has not signed them yet, and I do not know why he has not yet signed those documents,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, told CNN. “I will be asking the administration.”
Outside groups have continued to push both Capitol Hill and the administration for an explanation for why the papers have gone unsigned, arguing that without it, Trump’s refugee policy will continue to be the law of the land.
In a new letter to Biden on Wednesday signed by more than 200 groups that work with refugees in the US, advocates argue that the President has hampered the work they do by not signing the paperwork needed to allow refugees who were already prepared to come to the United States.
“We urge you to immediately sign a new, revised FY21 refugee admissions goal of 62,500 and restore regional allocations based on vulnerability and need. Each day that passes without this signed executive action is another day that hundreds of particularly vulnerable refugees are forced to wait to be resettled,” the groups, which include Refugee Council USA, Amnesty International, Catholic Charities among others, wrote to Biden.
Mark Hetfield, the President and CEO of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, told CNN that the lack of Biden’s signature had directly affected refugees he worked with, including one nearly 30-year-old Congolese woman who had been vetted and approved by the Department of Homeland Security and was scheduled to fly to the US in early March.
When the signature didn’t come, her ticket was canceled and because she is now in her third trimester, she can no longer travel. When the baby is born, Hetfield told CNN, the child will have to undergo a separate screening process that could take months. The family members that had planned to travel with her will have to make a decision about whether to go ahead without her once a signature comes.
CNN has reached out to the Biden administration for comment on Wednesday’s letter. In a statement to CNN last month, the Biden administration said it was still committed to raising the cap.
“The President is committed to strengthening the operations of the United States Refugee Admissions Program,” a White House spokesperson told CNN. “While no firm numbers have been finalized, the President’s view is clear: This program will reflect the generosity and core values of the United States, while benefiting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country.”
Every year – in consultation with Congress– the President has to approve of the number of refugees that could be permitted into the country. The number is a ceiling. In this case it does not mean the administration must admit all 62,500 refugees it says it could allow.
The Trump administration reconfigured the caps when Trump was in office so that it affected who could come. The program they designed had delayed the approval of a lot of refugees from Africa who no longer qualified under the administration’s requirements. When the Biden administration announced in February they would reverse those restrictions, groups began moving ahead with processing those refugees.