But if the White House was hoping to avoid a political fire with the Tories when it announced that Biden would maintain former President Donald Trump’s 15,000-person ceiling – a historically low level – it ended up sparking one with the Democrats in the Congress, immigrant advocates and refugee resettlement agencies. . Later on Friday, the administration reversed itself after the flood of convictions, saying it would effectively increase the number of refugee admissions by or before May 15.
The about-face was just the latest example of an otherwise button-down administration struggling to find its political foothold in the immigration arena. Although he has shown message discipline on Covid-19, vaccinations and the economy, immigration issues have repeatedly persecuted the Biden world since the president took office. Hiring at key immigration policy and law enforcement agencies has lagged behind in the administration, with new civil servants rapidly multiplying even as new challenges arose. The refugee program was already plagued by difficulties left by the Trump White House that had gutted it.
The Biden administration has argued that the situation at the border and the refugee admission ceiling are linked because of the federal resources they drain. But the allies did not find the argument convincing.
In an effort to contain the fallout, the White House held an appeal on Friday with refugee and immigrant advocates after reversing the announcement of its refugee cap. But attendees were unable to get answers to their questions about who played a role in the decision and why the May 15 deadline to increase admissions was not mentioned until hours later. The White House asked questions in advance and selected five, according to a source on the call.
Several supporters of the call said they left him dissatisfied with the White House’s explanation for his decision and his subsequent return.
“They did the math that in political terms this would be something that could be used against them,” said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. “The waffles will probably be used more against them than if they were just doing the right thing.”
Carey, who was late evening with White House officials on Friday, said he was happy the administration reversed its original decision to keep the refugee admissions cap at 15,000, but said ” the explanation and the attempt to cover up their tracks is not very convincing. ”
A White House aide said on Tuesday the administration wanted to make sure it didn’t rush the issue and instead allowed enough time to properly examine a refugee system, which they say Trump left more empty. than they originally expected.
“It was always meant to be just the beginning,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. But the White House did not say until its afternoon clarification that Biden would issue an increase in the cap by May 15.
On Tuesday, Psaki highlighted the transfer of millions of funds by the Department of Health and Human Services to address the safe housing capacity for children at the border as part of the administration’s decision on refugee admissions.
Several allies say privately they see immigration’s missteps as proof that the White House was not prepared to tackle the problem in its first 100 days, instead focusing on a deadly pandemic and efforts to restart the economy. This included the president who, while speaking to reporters after playing golf, used the word “crisis” to characterize the border, which the White House returned later.
Republicans hammered Biden over border issues with conservative channels like Fox News that regularly go into administration. In an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity on Monday, Trump described the border as “a horrible situation” which “could destroy our country.”
Yet the Biden administration is receiving more than its share of pressure to do more from immigrant and refugee advocacy groups.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services, rebuffed White House messages confusing asylum seekers at the border with the refugee resettlement program.
“They are different and distinct – one is largely managed by health and social services. The other is largely managed by the State Department, ”she said.
“There is no logistical or administrative reason why we cannot protect these two vulnerable populations,” added Vignarajah, who will join other advocates on Wednesday for a meeting with White House officials on resettlement. refugees. “I believe that if we are to keep President Biden’s promise to restore the soul of our nation, we must protect both.”