San Diego border
The U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Over the last two weeks, President Joe Biden broke two campaign promises regarding the border wall and the number of refugees the United States accepts each year.

Democrats spent the 2020 election cycle blasting the Trump administration’s immigration policies. They called Trump’s policies racist, and told voters that they’d bring a more humane approach.

One of those policies was Trump’s decision to cap the number of refugees the United States takes in at 15,000. It was a historically low cap – the U.S. cap normally hovers above 60,000.

As a candidate, Biden boldly promised to raise the cap to 125,000. Then, after being elected, Biden amended that lofty promise to 62,500.

But on Friday, the Biden administration announced that it’s keeping the cap at 15,000. Molly O’Toole from the Los Angeles Times broke down Biden’s walk-back and the outrage from immigration lawyers, refugee advocates and Democrats it drew.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose family fled civil war in Somalia, said the decision “goes against our values and risks the lives of little boys and girls huddled in refugee camps around the world. I know, because I was one.”

“There are simply no excuses for today’s disgraceful decision,” Omar tweeted.

Biden’s rationale – mainly that a surge of unaccompanied minors is preventing the federal government from accepting any more refugees – didn’t convert any of his critics.

Immigration experts were quick to point out that the asylum process is totally separate from the refugee process. Specifically, refugees are vetted outside the United States before they get approval to be resettled here while asylum seekers present themselves to immigration officials and wait for the U.S. immigration legal system to determine if their claims are valid.

More than 100,000 refugees are waiting to be resettled to the United States including 35,000 refugees already vetted and approved for placement, according to Amnesty International.

Biden’s decision was a big deal locally. More refugees have resettled in San Diego County than anywhere else in California. This has been the case here since after the Vietnam War, when hundreds of thousands of southeastern Asian refugees were resettled in Camp Pendleton and many stayed.

The county has multiple resettlement agencies and established immigrant communities.

Homayra Yusufi, the interim executive director of Partnership for the Advancement of the New Americas, described Trump’s decision to lower the cap as “xenophobic” and said that Biden’s choice to keep that cap at 15,000 continues that “shameful trend.”

“We are disappointed and dismayed by the decision to keep the refugee cap at its current historic low,” Ysusfi said. “The Biden administration must be bold and courageous to demonstrate that we can provide compassion to those seeking asylum at our borders as well as those seeking refuge from abroad.”

It’s worth noting that Biden got the seal of approval from the mastermind of Trump’s immigration policies, Stephen Miller.

Miller said Friday’s announcement reflects Biden’s awareness that the border flood will cause record losses in the midterm election.

Friday evening, after a day of pushback from even his own party, the Biden administration said it would up the numbers again. The announcement, the Associated Press reported, had a very Trumpian vibe in that it lacked specifics and was delivered at a golf course.

“We’re going to increase the number,” he said after golfing in Wilmington, Delaware. “The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”

A Second Broken Promise

The second campaign promise Biden broke in recent weeks deals with Trump’s border wall – specifically the former president’s use of eminent domain lawsuits to acquire privately owned land along the southern border.

When asked about this issue in March 2020, Biden gave NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro a refreshingly direct and unambiguous answer: “End. Stop. Done. Over. Not going to do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We’re out. We’re not going to confiscate the land.”

But last week, we all learned that words are wind.

The Department of Justice seized six acres of land from a family in Hidalgo County, Texas.

One could give Biden the benefit of the doubt by pointing out that the Trump administration began this specific eminent domain action.
But the Biden administration chose not to withdraw or ask to dismiss the case.

And, like with the refugee cap, the Biden administration’s explanation didn’t exactly win over critics. Politico reported that the White House is in the midst of a review of federal resources used to build the wall. Reporter Anita Kumar points out that the review was expected to be completed March 20.

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