The headline of the statement Pramila Jayapal sent to her constituents today wasn't something you might expect from the diplomatic congresswoman from Seattle: "Jayapal Statement on Biden Decision to Maintain Trump’s Cruel, Xenophobic Refugee Cap." Her office called Biden's decision "disastrous," something many Democrats would agree with, but few have to courage to say aloud.
She said that "It is simply unacceptable and unconscionable that the Biden Administration is not immediately repealing Donald Trump’s harmful, xenophobic, and racist refugee cap that cruelly restricts refugee admissions to a historically low level. After four painful years of fighting Trump’s all-out draconian assault on immigrants, President Biden promised to restore America as a beacon of hope and committed to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers. By failing to sign an Emergency Presidential Determination to lift Trump’s historically low refugee cap, President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity. We cannot turn our back on refugees around the world, including hundreds of refugees who have already been cleared for resettlement, have sold their belongings, and are ready to board flights. While this administration inherited a broken immigration system that was gutted and sabotaged by the previous president, it is on all of us to fix it-- quickly. A critical step to doing so is reversing the attack on the refugee resettlement program. I appreciate that President Biden eliminated geographic allocations but this is not sufficient. Each day that passes without signing the Emergency Presidential Determination is another day of signing off on Trump’s cruel policies. President Biden must raise the cap, restore regional allocations, and resume resettlement based on vulnerability."
Every time Biden shows who he is-- and has always been-- progressives are as disappointed... as they were bound to be when Obama managed to pull enough strings behind the curtain to get him the party's nomination. Many progressives held their noses and grudgingly voted for him-- or against Trump. Now many of them are fighting to defend him. Today's xenophobic decision is not going over well. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent tweeted why:
Biden's order keeping 2021 refugee admissions at 15,000-- the ugly, racist Trump number-- is nowhere near the 62,500 figure proposed to Congress earlier this year. A letter to Biden from Congresswomen Jayapal, Ilhan Omar and Jan Schakowsky shows how disappointed progressives are by Biden's retreat in the face of GOP rabble rousing. "Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration’s full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration. But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory."
Psaki, who lies and routinely deceives with as much alacrity as any of the Trump press secretaries, refused to give any reasons for Biden reneging on his pledge, telling reporters that he "remains committed to raising the refugee cap."
In his Atlantic column today, Adam Serwer wrote that "one of the Trump administration’s early priorities was engineering a whiter America through immigration restrictions. We know this because it told us so. 'U.S. demographics have been changing rapidly-- and undesirably in the eyes of top Trump aides, including his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and domestic policy advisor Stephen Miller,' the Los Angeles Times reported in February 2017. The travel ban targeting Muslim nations was the first step in an agenda 'to reshape American demographics for the long term and keep out people who Trump and senior aides believe will not assimilate.' The key phrase there is will not assimilate. Nothing is inherently wrong with nations adopting immigration policies best adapted to their economic needs. But Miller, Bannon, and Trump used immigrants who will not assimilate as code for immigrants who are not white and Christian. Miller privately praised racist immigration restrictions targeting Eastern and Southern Europeans, Jews, Africans, and Asians that the United States adopted in the early 20th century. Bannon famously lamented the presence of South Asian tech workers in Silicon Valley. And Trump himself complained about African, Latin American, and Caribbean immigrants as being from 'shithole countries,' an assessment rooted in the racial backgrounds of these immigrants, rather than their individual capabilities."
The L.A. Times also cited an anonymous senior administration official, who told the paper that “we don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature.” Later that year, a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a crowd that had shouted “Jews will not replace us!” the night before, used a car to mow down anti-racist protesters. Trump memorably equated the two groups, insisting that there were “fine people on both sides.”
Two weeks later, the future president, Joe Biden, wrote in The Atlantic that the murder of Heather Heyer, the growing confidence of white-nationalist groups, and Trump’s defense of them had deeply affected him.
“We have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support,” Biden wrote. “If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.”
Biden returned to a battle for the soul of this nation as a campaign theme in 2020-- successfully, as it turned out. Which raises the mystery of why President Biden is quietly maintaining one of the Trump era’s most discriminatory policies and a key element of Trump advisers’ broader agenda of making America white again: the throttling of refugee admissions. (The limits the Trump administration placed on refugee admissions are distinct from its attack on the asylum process, which was undertaken with similar intentions.)
In 2020, only about 12,000 refugees were admitted to the United States-- a steep decline from 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, when about 85,000 were admitted. This year, despite having vowed to reverse Trump’s discriminatory immigration policies, the Biden administration is on track to admit even fewer refugees, having allowed in only about 2,000 so far, according to a report from the International Rescue Committee. The Trump-era restrictions, the report notes, “have amounted to a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees. These policies, in the sordid tradition of the Muslim and Africa Ban, have undeniably discriminatory impacts along lines of nationality and religion.”
...I asked the White House to explain what logistical barriers might prevent the refugee cap from being lifted, and why hundreds of already vetted refugees are being blocked from resettlement. Instead of offering specifics, an administration spokesperson reiterated prior public statements about the Trump administration breaking the refugee-admissions process and Biden officials’ promises to fix it. Officials told CNN that Biden fears the “optics” of accepting refugees while the administration faces dubious accusations of being responsible for an influx of migrants at the border.
Restoring “the soul of the nation” cannot mean simply unseating Trump. It also has to mean reversing the policies his administration put in place in an attempt to codify into law his racial and sectarian conception of American citizenship. If Biden cannot do that, then he has restored little more than Democratic control of the presidency. And should he fail to rescind these policies simply because he fears criticism of those who enabled Trump’s cruelty to begin with, it will be nothing short of cowardice.
“My faith teaches me that we should be a nation that once again welcomes the stranger and shows a preferential option for the poor, remembering how so many of us and our ancestors came here in a similar way,” Biden wrote in 2019. “It’s not enough to just wish the world were better. It’s our duty to make it so.”
I'm pretty sure San Fernando Valley progressive Shervin Aazami isn't expecting a Biden endorsement in his bid to replace corporate Democrat Brad Sherman. This afternoon, Shervin told me that he has a simple message for Biden: "'Stop negotiating against the will of the American people.' Biden was not elected to negotiate with Republicans. The American people did not deliver the House, Senate, and White House to the Democrats to negotiate with Republicans. Biden made a promise to the American people to enact a humane immigration system. Maintaining Trump's draconian refugee cap is antithetical to that promise. The American people put Democrats in charge because they wanted a complete reversal of Trump's disgusting, xenophobic, and racist policies-- especially on immigration. But kids are still in cages-- and Biden decided to reopen the very same for-profit facilities that were the subject of sickening reports of child abuse, neglect, and inhumanity under the Trump Administration. The very existence of for-profit detention centers is unconscionable. Their business model quite literally revolves around maximizing incarceration, because that maximizes their profits. The private prison industry is utterly devoid of a moral compass, and should have zero role in our immigration system. They must be abolished. Calling it an 'overflow facility' or whatever euphemism the Biden team wants to use, doesn't change the despicable reality on the ground for thousands of migrant kids and their families. The Biden team needs to do their job. Sign the Emergency Presidential Determination, and then work with Congress on a permanent legislative solution to our immigration crisis. Progressives have introduced multiple bills to guarantee a legislative pathway to citizenship for our undocumented neighbors, decriminalize immigration, fund our immigration and asylum courts, and demilitarize our border. Abolish the Jim Crow relic in the Senate, and get it DONE."
UPDATE: Biden Raises The White Flag-- Had Klain Been Napping?
Biden backed down by early evening, scorched by his own party. AP: "Facing swift blowback from allies and aid groups, the White House on Friday said President Joe Biden plans to lift his predecessor’s historically low cap on refugees by next month, after initially moving only to expand the eligibility criteria for resettlements."