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The Biden Administration Has Delayed Accepting More Refugees Despite Campaign Promise

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Among the many Trump-era policies that President Biden has promised to reverse is immigration policy, including welcoming more refugees to the country. But so far, it is not happening. Trump-administration policies are still in effect. Just 2,050 refugees have resettled in the U.S. halfway through the fiscal year. That is according to the State Department. And that puts Biden on track so far to accept the fewest number of refugees of any modern president. Well, to talk about what's going on, we have called Jenny Yang. She is vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian group that partners with local churches. Jenny Yang, thanks for joining us.

JENNY YANG: Thanks so much for having me.

KELLY: So what is going on? President Biden says he wants to allow more refugees, but he has not signed the paperwork that would officially allow that to happen. Is that the situation in a nutshell?

YANG: Yes, that's exactly what's going on. And I think it's startling for many of us who work with refugee communities as well because this was a commitment the White House and the State Department themselves have made. And it's still unclear as to why he has not signed on the dotted line yet.

KELLY: Now the White House, I should mention, says the president remains committed to this, that they don't have an update on the paperwork signing. Has your organization been in touch with the Biden team? What are they telling you?

YANG: We have been in touch with them. We actually haven't heard specific reasons as to why the president has not signed the revised presidential determination. One of the reasons given was that they still haven't finalized the number yet, which is startling for us because the 62,500 is a number that the president's staff had themselves defended before Congress. And so the idea that they're either waffling on the number of 62,500 or potentially going to go lower than that is really concerning, especially since the president himself promised that he would raise the ceiling to 125,000 eventually. And we need to do the work now to start actually rebuilding back the program.

KELLY: Well, let's talk about some of the real human beings who are impacted and in limbo, at least for now, because each of those thousands represents a real person. What stories are you hearing from refugees, refugee families that you are working with?

YANG: Well, there are a lot of refugees who have been waiting for their loved ones to be reunited with them back in the United States. There's one of our - actually - staff members who is Congolese. His brother lives with him in Memphis, and he's been waiting for his wife. But their flight was canceled when the State Department found out that the president hadn't signed the presidential determination. They basically had to leave and go back to the refugee camp. But by then, they had sold all their belongings. They had left their shelter. And it was a really harrowing experience for them because they're anticipating coming to the United States.

There's other families that we work with - a Pakistani Christian woman whose husband has been tortured and beaten for publishing Christian material on a website. He is now living as a refugee in Sri Lanka, and we have been waiting for him to be reunited with his wife in Spokane, Wash., for over four years now. And so these are the stories of individuals who continue to be in vulnerable situations around the world. And every day that there is a delay, they continue to face insecurity and lack of protection in the communities where they are.

KELLY: So as you speak to your counterparts at other organizations working on this issue, what is the conversation? It sounds like you're very surprised that at this point - in the very early days of the Biden administration, but still - that this is quite where you find yourself.

YANG: Well, I think it's extremely disappointing to see the lack of commitment from the president in raising the refugee ceiling. It's been eight weeks since the congressional consultations, and all the president needs to do is sign on the dotted line. So now, we're actually effectively operating the refugee program now as if President Trump were still in the office. As President Biden said, all the right things but coupled with a lack of action equals an empty promise. And there are real humanitarian consequences felt for the refugees themselves.

KELLY: That is Jenny Yang from World Relief.

Thanks for talking to us.

YANG: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.