An Early Promise Broken: Inside Biden’s Reversal on Refugees

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Presidents normally raise refugee admissions at the end of the fiscal year. But Mr. Biden would allow up to 62,500 refugees to enter the United States before Oct. 1 by declaring the “grave humanitarian concerns” around the world an emergency.

The president made no mention of refugees in a flurry of immigration-related executive orders on his first day in office. But on Feb. 4, only two weeks later, he announced his plans with a flourish during a speech at the State Department.

“It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that’s precisely what we’re going to do,” Mr. Biden said. He did not mention the 62,500 number, but repeated his promise of 125,000 starting in October and added, “I’m directing the State Department to consult with Congress about making a down payment on that commitment as soon as possible.”

On Feb. 12, the president delivered on the specific commitment to Congress, pledging to resettle 62,500 refugees fleeing war and persecution at home. Mr. Blinken delivered the message to lawmakers along with Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, and Norris Cochran, the acting health secretary at the time.

“They went there and presented a really thoughtful plan, and we were so thrilled,” said Mark J. Hetfield, the chief executive of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a resettlement agency.

“And then,” Mr. Hetfield said, “it just evaporated overnight.”

The effect of the president’s delay in Washington was felt throughout the world.

Resettlement agencies had already booked flights for hundreds of refugees.

Such immigrants must be identified as refugees by the United Nations or other organizations and clear several rounds of vetting that can take, on average, two years, according to the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization. Roughly 33,000 refugees have received such approval, and about 115,000 are in the pipeline to be resettled.



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