The US’ promise to admit more refugees in 2021 is still pending

September 16, 2022

The world is currently facing its largest and most critical refugee crisis. 

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) states that the United States has long been a safe haven for refugees from around the world. Since its creation in 1980, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has accepted more than 3 million refugees into the country. However, under the Trump administration, this number reached a record low of fifteen thousand in 2021.

UNHCR’s latest refugee population statistics database reveals that 69% of the world’s refugees have been hosted in only five countries: Turkey, Colombia, Uganda, Pakistan, and Germany, with Turkey being the largest host country, holding 3.8 million refugees. The U.S. is not on this list, neither is it even one of the top ten host countries for refugees in 2022. 

The number of refugees admitted in the United States plummeted dramatically during the Trump administration, which allowed fifty thousand refugees to enter the country in 2017, forty five thousand in 2018, thirty thousand in 2019, and only eighteen thousand in 2020, after which the U.S. reached an all time low in 2021. 

President Biden has promised to rebuild the country’s capacity to admit more refugees. But has there been any progress?

In 2021, the Biden administration admitted 11,411 refugees into the country, falling way short of the cap set for that year, which was 62,500. Later that year, Biden increased the cap to 125,000 for the fiscal year 2022, which has still not been met. This agenda has now been pushed for fiscal year 2023. 

Having to recuperate from the policies set by the Trump administration has impeded the U.S.’ capacity to admit refugees. This is why the goal for every fiscal year is being postponed to the year after. 

The influx of refugees into a country is a multifaceted problem. The questions of who is considered a refugee, whether the displaced person meets the criteria for a refugee status, or what country the refugee is fleeing from often arise and determine their fate. Among these categories of displaced people lie those who have fled their home country because of natural disasters, droughts, and other weather events: climate refugees. Climate refugees make up a legitimate category of displaced people who have been forced to flee their country because of the uninhabitable conditions caused by climate change, especially in recent years.

Are climate refugees allowed to enter the U.S. based on the fact that they have fled because of climate disasters and not because of war or persecution? Apparently not! Under the current law, people impacted by climate change may only apply for refugee or asylum status in the U.S. if they can prove that their main reason for fleeing is either the fear of persecution due to race, religion, political opinion, membership in a particular political group, or nationality. 

With millions of refugees unable to resettle simply because of the U.S.’s strict adherence to what defines a refugee, our country must rethink and reform its policies to expand this narrow criterion. The reasons to flee are numerous, and while some may not seem as important or prevalent as others, they are still valid to the individual refugee.