The secretary told ABC News Biden to “revisit” his existing refugee limit. In an exclusive interview with ABC News, State Secretary Antony Blinken defended the Biden administration in the midst of a barrage of criticism from Democratic lawmakers and refugee advocates for now upholding a Trump-era ban on refugee admissions.
Although President Joe Biden vowed to welcome 125,000 refugees in the new fiscal year next fall, Blinken wouldn’t commit to a figure, telling ABC’s “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz, “Look, the president’s been straightforward about where he wants to go, but we have to be, you know, based on what we’re willing to do when we’re able to do it.”
The wait-and-see stance taken by Blinken and the White House, citing the “decimated” state of the refugee resettlement program, infuriated many influential Democrats as well as refugee resettlement agencies, who said they were willing to consider Biden’s 62,500 commitment for the remainder of this fiscal year.
As a result, after the White House announced on Friday that Biden would maintain the historic low limit of 15,000 refugees set by former President Donald Trump, the administration reversed course and announced that the cap would be lifted next month.
“We should start bringing people who were in the pipeline and who couldn’t come in. That’s starting today and we’ll revisit it in mid-May, “Blinken said.
A flood of Democrats attacked Friday’s decision to sign an executive order to uphold Trump’s 15,000 refugee admissions limit. Refugee organisations found it “deeply disappointing,” though Democrats like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, House Progressive Caucus leader, shamed Biden.
“President Biden broke his vow to restore civilization. We can not turn our back on refugees around the world, including hundreds of refugees who have already been resettled, sold their belongings and are ready to board flights, “In a tweet, Jayapal said.
About 35,000 refugees have been vetted and accepted for resettlement in the U.S., according to the International Rescue Committee, a resettlement organisation.
Those resettlements will start again with Biden’s order, but they’ll be restricted. After furious criticism on Friday, the White House said next month, after a few weeks of arrivals, the administration would set a “final, increased refugee limit” and blamed the Trump administration for leaving the program “broken,” in Blinken’s words.
“Based on what we’ve seen from now on in terms of inheritance and being able to look at what was in place, what we could put in place, how quickly we could put it in place, it’s going to be really hard to hit this fiscal year’s 62,000 figure,” he said—the number he told Congress the administration would approve in a February notice.
“We’re going to be revisiting this over the coming weeks,” he said.
Refugee resettlement agencies acknowledged that Trump left the nation’s programme in tatters through budget cuts and onerous screening procedures, but said they could easily scale up to reach Biden’s original goal of 62,500 if the administration helped provide support.
Instead, Biden on Saturday blamed the historic number of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border for holding the refugee limit low for now — a justification Blinken didn’t cite. While some of the same government entities deal with both, refugees are vetted overseas and approved to move to the U.S., while asylum seekers seek asylum once they reach U.S. territory.
The administration is also facing backlash from some Democrats and several Republicans over Biden’s decision this week to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11–nearly 20 years after the U.S. first invaded to overthrow the Taliban government that provided safe harbour for al-Qaeda operatives planning such attacks.
Despite intelligence chiefs warning of a decline in U.S. visibility in the country this week, Blinken said the administration must retain “the means to see if there is a revival, a re-emergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan… in real-time, with time to take action.”
Fresh from a trip to Kabul where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, other Afghan officials, and leaders of civil society, including prominent women, Blinken also told Raddatz the administration “will take steps to ensure that the Taliban respects the gains made by Afghan society, particularly in the area of women’s rights.
The U.S. intelligence community’s annual report, released Wednesday, said removal risks a revival of the terrorism danger — and it could go undetected by U.S. forces.
“When the U.S. military comes to withdraw, the capacity of the U.S. government to gather and act on threats will diminish. That’s just a reality, “CIA Director Bill Burns.
Blinken didn’t ignore those worries but said the administration is “going to make sure that we have assets properly in place to see this coming, if it comes again, to see it and to be able to to deal with it.”
Beyond the terrorist threat to the U.S. or others, the Taliban is awaiting an American escape to overthrow the Afghan government. Blinken seemed to disagree, telling Raddatz, “What everybody knows is there’s no military resolution to the dispute. So if they start anything up again, they’ll be in a long fight, not in their interest. “
It’s unclear whether the Taliban see the situation that way. Its leadership said this week that the Taliban will not engage in peace talks with the Afghan government until U.S. and NATO forces leave, but also said the Taliban remains “committed to seeking a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis.”
Blinken said the U.S. would put its full weight behind promoting those peace talks, which are expected to resume with Turkey’s summit in the coming weeks.
“If the Taliban is going to participate in some fashion in governance, if it wants to be internationally recognized, if it doesn’t want to be a pariah, it’s going to have to engage in a political process,” he said.
Even if that political process succeeds, there are deep concerns that with the Taliban in power in some form, the rights of women and girls and minorities will be curbed at best. But Blinken pledged that U.S. political, economic, and growth assistance would be conditional on respecting those rights.
“Any country that moves backwards on that, that tries to repress them, will not have that international recognition, will not have that international status, and indeed, we will take action to make sure to the best of our ability that they can’t do that,” he said.
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