Topline

President Joe Biden is on track to admit the lowest number of refugees this year of any president in modern history, according to a new report from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and is projected to admit fewer than half the number President Donald Trump admitted in 2020 despite taking action to reverse Trump’s restrictive policies on refugee admissions.

Key Facts

Only 2,050 refugees have been admitted into the U.S. so far this year, the IRC reports, and the federal government is on track to admit approximately 4,510 refugees in total in fiscal year 2021 at its current pace.

The Trump administration admitted 11,841 refugees into the country in 2020, which was previously the lowest number of refugee admissions since the refugee resettlement program began in 1980.

Trump imposed restrictions on refugee admissions in 2021 before leaving office, including a cap of 15,000 refugees and what the IRC describes as “highly restrictive admissions categories,” including barring most refugees from Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

Biden signed an executive order expanding refugee admissions and submitted a new proposed plan for 2021 refugee admissions that would override Trump’s plan and increase the cap to 62,500—but he has not yet signed the presidential determination that would actually overturn Trump’s order, leaving it still in effect.

“It’s really unusual that [Biden] hasn’t signed” the presidential determination and the White House has not offered a reason for the delay, IRC Vice President for global policy and advocacy Nazanin Ash told the Washington Post, describing the signature as typically being a “standard, automatic” step.

The White House has not yet responded to a request for comment about the report and when Biden will sign the presidential determination.

Crucial Quote

Biden’s “unexplained and unjustified” delay in signing the presidential determination “means that highly restrictive and discriminatory Trump-era policies remain firmly in place,” the IRC report notes. “As a result, tens of thousands of already-cleared refugees remain barred from resettlement and over 700 resettlement flights have been cancelled, leaving vulnerable refugees in uncertain limbo.”

Big Number

1.4 million. That’s the estimated number of refugees worldwide in need of resettlement as of Feb. 2021, according to the United Nations.

Key Background

The Trump administration sharply curtailed the number of refugee admissions after they were expanded under President Barack Obama—and reportedly considered barring most refugees entirely—reducing the admissions cap from 50,000 in 2017 to 15,000 in 2021. Trump’s slashing of refugee admissions has created a substantial backlog in the system that has left refugees waiting for years to be admitted, with State Department data cited by the Wall Street Journal in September finding 120,000 refugees are waiting for potential admission to the U.S. Biden has broadly started to undo Trump’s policies on immigration since taking office, including other policies around asylum seekers, the border wall and reversing Trump’s travel ban on a number of predominantly-Muslim countries. The Biden administration has still faced concerns at the border, however, with a surge of migrants that has overwhelmed immigration facilities.

What To Watch For

Biden has committed to greatly increasing the refugee admissions cap in fiscal year 2022 to let in as many as 125,000 refugees.

Further Reading

More of the same: Biden to admit fewer refugees than any president in U.S. history (International Rescue Committee)

Biden set to accept fewest refugees of any modern president, including Trump, report says (Washington Post)

Biden Ends Migrant Parent Deportations: Here Are All The Trump-Era Immigration Policies Rolled Back So Far (Forbes)

Trump Administration Slashing Refugee Admissions To Lowest Level Yet (Forbes)