Biden Plan to Increase Refugees This Year Twists the Refugee Act of 1980

Refugee Resettlement
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

President Biden’s proposal to increase the FY 2021 refugee resettlement ceiling to 62,500, first reported by CNN on Friday, twists and contorts the Refugee Act of 1980, which authorizes the president to set the annual refugee resettlement ceiling for each fiscal year in a letter sent to Congress the month before the fiscal year begins.

The law also allows the president to increase previously established annual refugee resettlement ceilings under “emergency” circumstances after consulting with Congress. Such authority has been rarely used during the four decades the Refugee Admissions Program has been in operation.

The most recently updated version of the U.S. Code Annotated (Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter II, Part I, § 1157) which states the law regarding the establishment of annual refugee ceilings, essentially unchanged since it was first codified in the Refugee Act of 1980, reads:

§1157. Annual admission of refugees and admission of emergency situation refugees

(a) Maximum number of admissions; increases for humanitarian concerns; allocations

(1) Except as provided in subsection (b), the number of refugees who may be admitted under this section in fiscal year 1980, 1981, or 1982, may not exceed fifty thousand unless the President determines, before the beginning of the fiscal year and after appropriate consultation (as defined in subsection (e)), that admission of a specific number of refugees in excess of such number is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest.

(2) Except as provided in subsection (b), the number of refugees who may be admitted under this section in any fiscal year after fiscal year 1982 shall be such number as the President determines, before the beginning of the fiscal year and after appropriate consultation, is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest. (emphasis added)

(3) Admissions under this subsection shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after appropriate consultation.

(4) In the determination made under this subsection for each fiscal year (beginning with fiscal year 1992), the President shall enumerate, with the respective number of refugees so determined, the number of aliens who were granted asylum in the previous year.

(b) Determinations by President respecting number of admissions for humanitarian concerns

If the President determines, after appropriate consultation, that (1) an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists, (2) the admission of certain refugees in response to the emergency refugee situation is justified by grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest, and (3) the admission to the United States of these refugees cannot be accomplished under subsection (a), the President may fix a number of refugees to be admitted to the United States during the succeeding period (not to exceed twelve months) in response to the emergency refugee situation and such admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after the appropriate consultation provided under this subsection. (emphasis added)

But on Friday, the Biden administration reportedly told Congress it intended to invoke that rarely used authority now for the remaining nine months of FY 2021.

“The Biden administration told Congress on Friday that it is proposing to increase the refugee cap for the current fiscal year from 15,000 spots — a historic low set by President Trump — to 62,500 spots, two people familiar with the plan told CBS News,” CBS News reported that same day.

In September 2020, then-President Trump sent a letter to Congress setting the refugee resettlement ceiling for FY 2021,which began on October 1, 2020 and continues until September 30, 2021, at 15,000.

With most states in the country currently operating under lockdown rules imposed after the formal declaration of public health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the Biden administration undertaking a series of open borders immigration acts, it is unclear what legal argument is being made by White House officials to persuade Congress that refugees seeking to enter the United States are living in the kind of international “emergency” conditions specified in the law sufficient to justify the mid-year refugee ceiling increase.

The law requires consultation with Congress in part to ensure that the additional expense to taxpayers caused by a sudden mid-year increase in refugee admissions can be incorporated into the current year’s fiscal budget. Given the huge budget deficits in FY 2021 exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and recent proposals by the Biden administration to further increase COVID-19 related expenditures for domestic purposes, Congressional reaction to further spending to increase refugee resettlement in FY 2021 by 47,500 additional admissions is also unclear.

In contrast, critics of the Biden administration’s immigration policies have great clarity in their opposition to the proposed mid-year increase in refugee admission.

“The Biden administration is in the process of creating a refugee and asylum emergency with the policies they’ve introduced over the past few weeks,” Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Breitbart News.

“We don’t need to be inducing a new crisis. Resettling a large number of people in the United States [in the last nine months of FY 2021] is not the most efficient way to deal with the issue of refugees,” Mehlman added.

As Breitbart News reported:

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he plans to raise the annual refugee admissions ceiling to 125,000 in the 12-month period beginning October 1, up from the 15,000 cap proposed by the previous administration.

The president accused his predecessor of damaging the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by lowering the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States, adding that restoring the program will take time.

“It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that’s precisely what we’re going to do,” he declared during a speech Thursday at the U.S. State Department, adding:

Today, I’m approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need. … This executive order will position us to be able to raise the refugee admissions back up to 125,000 persons for the first full fiscal year [2022] of the Biden-Harris administration.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 will run from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022.

Breitbart News subsequently reported:

In Fiscal Year 2020, the Trump administration admitted less than 12,000 refugees as the program was largely halted to slow the spread of the Chinese coronavirus and only emergency cases were processed. Biden’s increase means that the U.S. will likely see a nearly 960 percent increase in refugee resettlement this year, despite the ongoing crisis.

Nine refugee contractors — who have a vested interest in ensuring as many refugees are resettled across the U.S. as possible because their annual federally-funded budgets are contingent on the number of refugees they resettle — are celebrating Biden’s order.

The contractors include:

Church World Service (CWS), Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), International Rescue Committee (IRC), U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and World Relief Corporation (WR).

“There is more to be done to fully restore welcome, but for now, we’re celebrating!” wrote CWS officials while HIAS and USCRI officials thanked Biden.

On Thursday, February 4, President Biden signed an executive order, “Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” which was seen as a first step in paving the way to gear these nine refugee contractors back up to be able to process the 125,000 refugees the president has said he will be inviting into the country under the new FY 2022 ceiling, stated, in part:

Section 1. Policy. The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world, promotes stability in regions experiencing conflict, and facilitates international collaboration to address the global refugee crisis. Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that:

(a) USRAP and other humanitarian programs shall be administered in a manner that furthers our values as a Nation and is consistent with our domestic law, international obligations, and the humanitarian purposes expressed by the Congress in enacting the Refugee Act of 1980, Public Law 96-212.

(b) USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need and the purposes described above.

(c) Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

(d) Security vetting for USRAP applicants and applicants for other humanitarian programs should be improved to be more efficient, meaningful, and fair, and should be complemented by sound methods of fraud detection to ensure program integrity and protect national security.

(e) Although access to United States humanitarian programs is generally discretionary, the individuals applying for immigration benefits under these programs must be treated with dignity and respect, without improper discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or other grounds, and should be afforded procedural safeguards.

(f) United States humanitarian programs should be administered in a manner that ensures transparency and accountability and reflects the principle that reunifying families is in the national interest.

(g) My Administration shall seek opportunities to enhance access to the refugee program for people who are more vulnerable to persecution, including women, children, and other individuals who are at risk of persecution related to their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

(h) Executive departments and agencies (agencies) should explore the use of all available authorities for humanitarian protection to assist individuals for whom USRAP is unavailable.

(i) To meet the challenges of restoring and expanding USRAP, the United States must innovate, including by effectively employing technology and capitalizing on community and private sponsorship of refugees, while continuing to partner with resettlement agencies for reception and placement.

That order also revoked two executive orders  and one presidential memorandum signed by President Trump:

(a) Executive Order 13815 of October 24, 2017 (Resuming the United States Refugee Admissions Program With Enhanced Vetting Capabilities), and Executive Order 13888 of September 26, 2019 (Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement), are revoked.

(b) The Presidential Memorandum of March 6, 2017 (Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and Other Immigration Benefits, Ensuring Enforcement of All Laws for Entry Into the United States, and Increasing Transparency Among Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government and for the American People), is revoked.

Reductions in refugee admissions from 85,000 in the Obama administration’s final full fiscal year (FY 2016) to 12,000 in the Trump administration’s final full fiscal year (FY 2020) have had a devastating effect on the nine refugee contractors, causing all of them to reduce staff and shut down offices.

Friday’s report that the Biden administration is seeking to increase the number of refugees admitted to 62,500 in FY 2021 and 125,000 in FY 2022 is seen by critics as a federal government bailout to keep the nine refugee contractors afloat.



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