Why Biden's Dodge on Raising the Refugee Cap Shouldn't Really Be a Surprise

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Jack Holmes
·3 min read
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Photo credit: Andrew Harnik - Getty Images
Photo credit: Andrew Harnik - Getty Images

A pair of reports Thursday, one from the Washington Post and the other from CNN, tackle the Biden administration's foot-dragging on refugee policy. Both found strong reason to believe Ol' Joe is not lifting the Trump-era cap—which allows just 15,000 refugees to be resettled in the U.S. per year—for political reasons. (The country of Jordan, population 10 million, is home to some 1.3 million Syrians who've sought shelter there since 2011.) Basically, the Biden folks are taking heat over a surge of arrivals at the southern border, and even though the refugee cap is a separate issue, they reportedly don't want to touch it. And make no mistake: as the WaPo article makes clear, this has real human consequences. Unfortunately, this is more of the same from recent Democratic administrations on the issues of immigration and asylum. While Tucker Carlson and co. are going whole-hog on white-nationalist rage phantasms around how Democrats want to "replace" the Real American population with masses of immigrants, the record indicates otherwise.

Barack Obama, the last Democratic president, was known as "the deporter-in-chief" in immigrant advocate circles. There's a theory that Obama adopted fairly hardline immigration policies in an attempt to get Republicans to the table in order to do a deal on comprehensive immigration reform—a political decision. Maybe it would have been justified had it yielded a real fix for the overall system, but it did not. (And it looks a bit silly now to think Mitch McConnell was ever going to make it happen.) Obama also built up part of the web of detention facilities at the southern border that some experts say qualify as a system of concentration camps. In fairness, Obama's contribution mostly centered on building facilities to house unaccompanied minors who arrived in a surge from Central America in 2014. He did not separate these children from their families, making them unaccompanied, as his successor would.

Photo credit: John Moore - Getty Images
Photo credit: John Moore - Getty Images

Nonetheless, he built on this legal and judicial no man's land, this gray area where people do not enjoy full human rights. This, along with a series of court decisions, has served to enshrine this limbo in the law, just like the limbo at Guantanamo Bay has been legitimized. Another key architect of the camp system at the border, of course, was Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president before Obama. It was Clinton who built out a big chunk of the detention facilities designed to hold single men crossing the border to find work in the 1990s, itself a fairly hardline approach to basic economic realities. He also signed into law two bills that boosted the rate of deportations and removed a whole lot of humanity from the process. On its face, this fits into Clinton's broader program of Third Way Centrist Democrat-ism, a kind of Republican-lite approach to, say, regulation of the financial-services industry or welfare "reform."

All this is to say that while Biden, like his predecessors, is in a bit of a bind because of decades of congressional inaction, and because of the added burden of succeeding an administration of brutish vandals, it should not be a surprise to see a Democratic president come up short when it comes to prioritizing the human rights of people seeking a new life in America. As a basic proposition, the kind of blanket opposition to immigration of any kind—legal or illegal—that dominated the Trump regime's approach is completely untenable, and essentially laughable, in the United States. We need a more organized, or even restrictive, approach than the one that reigned when immigrant ancestors like Biden's own arrived here in the hulls of coffin ships, but wholesale opposition to immigration itself just does not compute. The sad fact is that the Democratic Party's alternative to this ahistorical nativism has not been good enough for a long time.

Photo credit: Esquire
Photo credit: Esquire

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