The US allowed more than 25,000 refugees to enter the country in fiscal year 2022, using only 20% of the 125,000 refugee slots allocated by the Biden administration, which continued to struggle to rebuild a resettlement system shattered by the limits of the Trump era and the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior State Department official told CBS News.
State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Sarah Cross said in an interview with CBS News that in fiscal year 2022, which ended on September 30, the US received approximately 25,400 refugees under the, which resettles the most vulnerable immigrants displaced by war and violence around the world. Cross noted that the number is a preliminary figure that could be updated.
While the annual refugee cap is an aspirational goal that does not require the US to receive a minimum number of refugees, the Biden administration’s decision to dramatically increase the cap symbolized a seismic deviation from the former president’s decision. donald trump derefugee points to record lows.
But in the two fiscal years since President Joe Biden took office, the US has failed to come close to reaching the refugee ceiling, leaving tens of thousands of places unused. In fiscal year 2021, when Mr. Biden allocated 62,500 refugee slots, the US resettled 11,411 refugees, the lowest number in refugee program history.
Last week, Mr. Biden authorized a ceiling of 125,000 refugee spots by fiscal year 2023, a goal that immigration policy experts say will again prove a difficult, if not unlikely, task for federal officials to achieve.
“We are going to do everything in our power to welcome as many refugees as we can this year, recognizing that 125,000 is still a very ambitious goal and it will take some time to get there,” said Cross, who works at the Department’s Office of State. Population, Refugees and Migration. “But we are very optimistic that we are going to reach much higher levels than this year.”
Over the past year, Cross said, the Biden administration has deployed approximately 600 additional people to US refugee processing centers abroad; increased the number of local domestic resettlement offices from 199 to 270; and taken steps to expedite the processing of refugees.
The reasons behind the low refugee admissions in recent years vary, but one catalyst is the destruction of the resettlement program under Trump, whose policies led non-governmental organizations that help refugees integrate into American communities to close offices. premises and lay off staff. .
Under Trump, who argued that refugees posed a cultural, economic, and national security threat to the country, the US set record low limits on refugees; severely limited who qualified for resettlement; and attempted to allow states to veto the placement of refugees in their communities.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has also hampered refugee processing in the US, leading to a months-long suspension of the program in 2020 and a more than a year-long pause in in-person interviews for refugee claimants. refuge that was only lifted by the Biden administration. in the summer of 2021.
However, the refugee admissions tally does not fully represent the number of immigrants received by the US on humanitarian grounds under Biden, including the hundreds of thousands of migrants US border officials have allowed to search.which is only available to those already on US soil.
The tally also does not include the nearly 90,000and 62,000 whom the Biden administration allowed to enter the US over the past year under humanitarian parole, a temporary legal classification that, unlike refugee status, does not provide a path to US citizenship.
Still, the low refugee admissions have alarmed advocates, who have called on the US to speed up refugee processing, citing an unprecedented number. displacement crisis around the world exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, ethnic conflicts in Africa and the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Indeed, the contraction of the US refugee program over the last five years, during which admissions have fallen sharply below the 21st century average of 50,000, has come as the number of displaced people in around the world for war, violence and human rights abuses has increased. overcome 100 million, the highest number recorded in history.
For Chantal Nabageni, a Congolese refugee living in East Moline, Illinois, the ongoing fight to reinvigorate the US refugee program is personal. She has been waiting for her husband to come to the US through the refugee process for nearly four years.
As a child, Nabageni left the Congo with her mother and siblings to escape attacks on her Banyamulenge community, a minority group that has been persecuted for decades, including through mass murder. The ethnic violence, Nabageni said, claimed the lives of some of his relatives, including his grandfather.
Nabageni and her family settled in Burundi, where they lived as refugees for 13 years. In Burundi she met and married her husband, James Nzungu. In 2018, the US agreed to resettle Nabageni, her parents, and her siblings. But because Nabageni married Nzungu after she started her refugee case; of her was unable to come to the US. On February 8, 2019, Nabageni asked her to join her as a refugee spouse.
“I came here legally, with papers. I’m legally married. I even have money to support my husband. I can pay his ticket to come here. I’m working full time. I can support him while he doesn’t.” to have a job. I don’t understand why the process takes so long,” Nabageni said.
The couple’s three-year-old daughter, who was born after Nabageni’s arrival in the United States, often reminds her mother that she misses her father. Nzungu’s absence, Nabageni said, has also been emotionally draining. She said it has been difficult raising her daughter on her own, while she went to school and worked full time to support her baby and her elderly parents.
“It’s a lot,” said Nabageni, who helps other refugees as a caseworker for World Relief, a resettlement group. “It’s stressful. Sometimes I feel like I’m tired. I don’t know if I can do it. But it’s good that we pray every day.”
While the Biden administration has struggled to increase refugee admissions by significant numbers, there are signs that officials are gradually accelerating the processing of pending refugee cases, which typically take years to complete due to referrals, interviews, background checks security, medical exams and other bureaucratic steps. .
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services interviewed nearly 44,000 refugee claimants in fiscal year 2022, a 382% increase from 2021, when 9,100 interviews were conducted, according to unpublished government figures obtained by CBS News. Show. The count still remains well below the historical average of 65,000 annual interviews.
So-called “circuit trips” in which USCIS officers interview refugee claimants abroad also increased sharply in fiscal year 2022. USCIS recorded 72 circuit trips in 2022, compared to 12 in 2021, data show. government data.
Cross, the State Department official, said the administration plans to launch a sponsorship program later this year that will allow private US citizens to sponsor refugee resettlement. Citing the hundreds of Afghans and tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been sponsored by private US citizens under policies enacted over the past year, Cross said the broader sponsorship program has considerable potential.
“We really are tremendously impressed and excited by the interest and we’re looking to really build on it as we launch this new program,” he said.
Citing “historic displacement figures” around the world, Cross said the Biden administration is also working to convince other countries to resettle larger numbers of refugees.
“The United States has been a historic leader in refugee resettlement and a world leader in humanitarian response,” Cross added. “But we know that it will not be enough to solve the global problem, and the crisis is more than one country can respond to alone.”