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Ilhan Omar and Democratic members urge Biden to act swiftly on raising refugee caps: ‘Lives depend on it’


A group of progressive Democrats is urging the Biden administration to act quickly to raise refugee caps put in place by the former Trump administration, warning that “lives depend on it.”

“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,” Reps. Ilhan Omar, who herself is a refugee, Pramila Jayapal and Jan Schakowsky wrote in a letter addressed to President Joe Biden that CNN obtained Friday.

The letter, which is being circulated and is cosigned by more than 30 other House Democrats, adds further pressure from Capitol Hill Democrats on Biden to honor his commitment of allowing the United States to admit a higher number of refugees after his delay in signing off on raising the Trump-era refugee cap has led to the cancellation of hundreds of refugee flights and left thousands of people expecting to arrive in the US in limbo. Politico was the first to report on the letter.

In their letter to Biden, the House lawmakers said they were “deeply distressed” after hearing about refugees cleared for resettlement having their flights canceled “at the last minute, in some cases having already left their residences and sold their belongings.”

The group argued that the US has an obligation to keep promises made to “people who have fled unthinkably brutal conditions in their home countries and live up to our ambition to provide them a safe haven to re-start their lives.”

“There is immense and growing urgency on this issue, for the many who have already been approved for resettlement, and for the unimaginable number of people who continue to hold out hope that they can one day rebuild their lives destroyed by climate, conflict, and repression,” they wrote.

The White House announced last week that Biden was committed to raising the refugee ceiling from 15,000 to allow up to 62,500 this fiscal year but did not provide a timeline.

CNN has reported, however, that Biden has held off on signing the paperwork because of political optics. Democratic lawmakers are concerned that part of the White House’s calculation is that raising the refugee cap now could become a political issue with the influx of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border — despite the two being entirely different situations. State Department spokesperson Ned Price previously suggested the delay was because of the efforts to get the refugee program back into shape after the Trump administration.

Omar and the other House Democrats noted that Biden’s delay is at odds with his commitments as president and warned that without “immediate action,” the Biden administration is “currently on track to admit fewer refugees than any other President in U.S. history,” citing the International Rescue Committee.

“We know that this is not your intention, and not in accordance with your commitments as President or throughout your career in public service,” they wrote. “Until you finalize your proposed changes to the program, however, it remains a fact.”

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