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OPINION

Biden’s dismal record on helping people fleeing from danger

The United States is falling short of its moral responsibility to aid migrants and refugees at a crucial moment of need.

Haitians line up for breakfast at a campground being used to house a large group of Haitian migrants in Sierra Morena in Cuba's Villa Clara province, May 26. A vessel carrying more than 800 Haitians trying to reach the United States wound up instead on the coast of central Cuba, in what appeared to be the largest group seen yet in a swelling exodus from crisis-stricken Haiti.Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

Since September 2020, more than 25,000 asylum-seeking Haitians have been sent back to Haiti from the United States. Thousands of Afghan families remain separated in the aftermath of the US military’s sloppy withdrawal last year. And only about 12,000 refugees worldwide have been resettled in the United States as of May 31 of the current fiscal year despite a refugee ceiling of 125,000.

Those are some of the Biden administration’s lowest points vis-a-vis refugees, asylum-seekers, and other migrants fleeing danger. Despite generous campaign promises, Biden has struggled to rebuild the refugee infrastructure that had been so decimated by former president Trump. He has also earned criticism from immigration advocates and attorneys, as well as members of Congress, who accuse his administration of bias against Black migrants, in no small part due to the high number of Haitian expulsions from the US-Mexico border.

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On World Refugee Day, observed Monday, here’s a stark reminder: The United States is falling dismally short of its moral responsibility to aid migrants and refugees at a crucial moment of high need. For the first time on record, the number of people worldwide forced to flee their homeland because of violence, war, human rights violations, and persecution has passed 100 million, according to the United Nations.

To be fair, the Biden administration has made some progress in certain areas. It launched a private sponsorship program to resettle Ukrainians fleeing the war. More than 45,000 Americans have submitted applications to participate and financially support a Ukrainian beneficiary. The immediate success of the private sponsorship program shows that Americans are willing to help refugees in need and should be expanded to include refugees from other countries.

In the last year of the Trump administration, the United States resettled only 11,814 refugees, then a record low. During fiscal 2021, the first year Biden was president, the number was even lower, albeit marginally: 11,411. The United States is now on track to welcome just under 19,000 refugees by the end of fiscal 2022, according to analysts. Consider this astonishing and shameful figure: In May, there were only 1,898 refugees resettled in the United States. Per a report from September of last year, there are roughly 90,000 prospective refugees who are in the pipeline waiting for an in-person interview with the US government. What is taking so long?

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The same question applies to Afghan refugees. Last summer, as the United States was leaving Afghanistan, the military airlifted 124,000 people, including Americans, third-country nationals, and more than 75,000 Afghans who helped the United States in the war or were at risk of Taliban persecution. But many eligible Afghans were left behind because of the chaotic nature of the exit. They were told to file applications to come to the United States on humanitarian grounds. But the federal government has denied more than 90 percent of the nearly 5,000 fully adjudicated applications. Some of the Afghans left behind are family members of refugees who did make it out during the evacuation. It’s unclear how many there are, since there seems to be no federal agency keeping track of how many Afghans brought in the evacuation remain separated from their immediate family, as The Washington Post reported.

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Then there’s the horrific plight of Haitian migrants all over the continent. During the Summit of the Americas, which took place earlier this month in Los Angeles, the US government did pledge to take in more Haitians via different programs in the coming years. Yet at the same time, it continues to expel Haitians at a fast pace. Just in May, there were 36 deportation flights carrying almost 4,000 Haitians back to their battered homeland, marking an increase over the previous three months. Thousands wait in makeshift camps at the US-Mexico border, where they’re also falling victim to violence.

Life is so harrowing in Haiti that people are fleeing in any way they can. There’s been an uptick lately in sea trips from Haiti. Last month, a boat carrying nearly 900 Haitians destined to the United States ended up on the coast of central Cuba. Tragically, a smaller boat with as many as 75 Haitians capsized off the coast of Puerto Rico, leaving 11 women dead and at least a dozen missing.

All of this screams desperation. Yet the Biden administration continues to send back flight after flight full of Haitians to a country that’s essentially run by violent gangs and cannot keep them safe — or even properly fed.

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If there were only one thing that could be expected from the Biden administration, it would be a more open, welcoming America after four years of his predecessor’s callous disregard for suffering abroad. We don’t have the hostile rhetoric from back then, but the numbers tell us we’re getting pretty much more of the same.


Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.