Biden Leaves Historically Low Trump-Era Refugee Limits in Place

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President Biden’s decision to leave Trump-era refugee caps in place means that the United States will, once again, accept the lowest number of refugees since it passed the Refugee Act in 1980. As the New York Times reports, “President Biden had promised to increase refugee admissions to 60,000 this year, but will keep to the 15,000 set by the Trump administration instead.”

In a recent article I published on the Migrant Protection Protocols, I drew on geographer Alison Mountz’s work to argue that our current restrictionist immigration control system is “symptomatic of a concerted though spatially uneven assault across the developed world on both the institutions and operations of asylum as well as on asylum seekers themselves.” Rather than changing course from the Trump administration, President Biden has chosen to support unjustified refugee restrictions which put migrants’ lives at risk.

The graph below from Migration Policy Institute (MPI) shows just how low the current refugee numbers are compared to historical periods.

As data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) show, the immigration courts now have over 1.3 million pending cases. Nearly every year the number of asylum cases decided by the courts has grown, from 20,000 in 2015 to 60,000 in 2020. Biden’s decision could prompt still more refugees to attempt to come through the asylum system, placing an even heavier burden on the US immigration court system.

Biden’s refusal to follow through on campaign promises to raise the refugee cap could have unanticipated effects on our immigration institutions and further undermine trust in the US asylum and refugee system.

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