Nearly 70 legislators led by anti-war stalwart Barbara Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are calling on the Biden administration to raise the refugee cap for the 2022 fiscal year, citing “vulnerable Afghans who are in grave danger following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.” President Joe Biden has previously pledged to raise the cap to 125,000 in the next full fiscal year. Currently its 62,500. Legislators are calling on him to raise it to at least 200,000.
“After decades of disastrous U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, one thing is clear: we have a moral responsibility to provide safe harbor and refuge for the Afghan people. Now, the growing humanitarian crisis is further exposing the horrific costs of our endless wars,” they write. “The United States must do everything in its power to protect those who have borne the brunt of this decades-long conflict, especially Afghans who are at increased risk of persecution or death by the Taliban …”
“Increasing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs cap above 200,000 will mean that hundreds of thousands more people can escape danger to find greater security and hope in the United States,” legislators say. They note the Biden administration’s “dedicated effort to expedite Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Afghans who have assisted the United States,” but say relief can be extended to many more vulnerable people.
“Beyond Afghanistan, refugee crises are also ongoing in other parts of the world—especially as political violence erupts in Ethiopia, Lebanon faces economic collapse, and Haiti grapples with yet another devastating earthquake following the assassination of its president,” legislators continue. “And as climate change accelerates, destroying homes and ruining crops, displacement is only on the rise. In the face of these overlapping crises, increased refugee protections are vital to ensuring that people can reach safety and rebuild their lives.”
Biden at the beginning of the year pledged to raise the current fiscal year’s cap to 62,500, but then shockingly backed down from that number. Under intense public blowback, the president returned to the proposed 62,500 cap. However, Roll Call reports only 6,246 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. for the current fiscal year.
While leading refugee resettlement agencies were decimated by the previous administration, they had been among the voices supporting the 62,500 cap, saying they had capacity to handle that figure. Whether they’d be able to hand the number proposed by legislators is unclear. “It has been a herculean effort that’s been underway for months to rebuild the system quickly, knowing the dire need right now,” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah told Roll Call.
In their letter, the nearly 70 legislators told the administration they “are ready to work with you to appropriate the necessary funds to be used for humanitarian needs and, specifically, as is necessary is used to ramp up the evacuation and processing of Afghans and others seeking refuge around the world.” Indeed, legislators called it not just an obligation for the United States, but an effort it can carry out if it puts in its full force.
“The urgent need to double down on our efforts to welcome and protect refugees is evidenced by the racist, virulent anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment that exploded over the last decade—often as a result of U.S.-fueled wars—and was further heightened under the last administration and now with the evacuations occurring in Afghanistan,” legislators said. “To those questioning if it is really our responsibility to provide refuge for those fleeing conflict, persecution, or dire living conditions—yes, it is. In fact, it is not only our responsibility, but it is our greatest strength.”
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