WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s recent reversal of its plans to raise the refugee cap sparked outrage not only among immigration advocates but from Democrats who accused the president of breaking his promise. Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois said in response to the news on Twitter Friday, “Say it ain’t so, President Joe. This is unacceptable.” Raising the refugee cap is one of at least five promises on immigration made by candidate and President-elect Biden that have not yet been fulfilled as the end of his first 100 days approaches.
Reunite separated migrant families: In the final presidential debate, Biden was asked what he would do to reunite 545 children with their parents after they were separated by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018. Biden pledged to build a task force to reunite them. While the task force has formed and has pledged to bring back deported parents to reunite with their children, not one of the deported parents has so far been brought back, according to lawyers representing the families. On a call with reporters earlier this month, a senior Department of Homeland Security official said the task force is first working on capturing the “full scope” of those potentially affected by the policy.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which represents the separated families said, “We are beginning to make progress on trying to repair the damage of the Trump administration’s family separation practice but it will be a long process and the key is ultimately whether the Biden administration sticks with it and provides real meaningful relief for these families.”
A DHS spokesperson said the task force is “actively working on settlement negotiations with the ACLU and is simultaneously working to process identified families so we can reunite them as swiftly as possible. …They are dedicated to finding every family and giving them an opportunity to reunite and heal.”
End detention of migrant families by Immigration and Customs Enforcement: During his presidential campaign, Biden tweeted “Children should be released from ICE detention with their parents immediately.” Asked in March whether he agreed, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “a detention center is not where a family belongs.” Shortly after, in a court filing, the Biden administration said it would be ending the practice of holding migrant parents and children who are seeking asylum in detention. But then ICE walked it back, with a senior official telling NBC News, “We are not ending family detention. We are not closing the family detention centers.”
Though many families have been released without being detained, due to the limited capacity of border processing facilities, two ICE detention centers for families in South Texas continue to hold nearly 500 parents and children daily. By court order, families are not supposed to be detained for more than 20 days unless they are awaiting deportation. After that, they are typically released as they await their day in immigration court.
A DHS spokesperson said ICE “has made operational changes to focus on rapid processing of families” that allows many families to be released after they are tested for Covid-19. But a senior ICE official told NBC News the administration will continue to retain longer term family detention and family detention centers “as a tool.”
Raise the refugee cap: As a candidate, Biden promised to raise the limit on refugees resettled in the U.S. annually from the Trump administration’s historic lows to 125,000. Once in office, the Biden administration said that goal would be realized in the 2022 fiscal year, which begins in October, and it would admit 62,500 this fiscal year.
But last week, the Biden administration said it would keep the current level of refugees — 15,000 per fiscal year, set by the Trump administration — at least until it sets a “final, increased” refugee cap on May 15. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that “the challenge is the ability to process” increased numbers of refugees. And other White House officials blamed the high number of immigrants crossing the southern border.
However, the agencies and personnel used to screen refugees overseas are different from those used to process asylum seekers who have crossed into the U.S. The State Department works with the UN to identify refugees around the world to bring to the U.S., while asylum seekers at the border are processed by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and unaccompanied minors who cross the border are cared for by Health and Human Services.
Stop border wall construction: At the beginning of his presidency, Biden paused border wall construction and land acquisition until a a 60-day review of Trump’s border wall could be completed. The review tasked those involved to decide where the money set aside for the wall could be redirected. The 60-day mark passed more than 30 days ago without any results.
The pause on wall construction continues, but as a result of the delay in the review or a permanent stop to wall construction, a judge last week agreed to give the government six acres of land in Hidalgo County, Texas, for the purpose of wall construction despite the Justice Department asking the court to wait until its review was complete. The case is one of more than 200 eminent domain cases started under the Trump administration that still continue today.
A spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said the review has been delayed because there is so much to sort out. “When the administration took office, funds had been diverted from military construction and other appropriated purposes toward building the wall, and wall construction was being challenged in multiple lawsuits by plaintiffs who alleged that the construction was creating serious environmental and safety issues. Under those circumstances, federal agencies are continuing to develop a plan to submit to the President soon,” the spokesperson said.
Hold the Trump administration accountable for family separation: As a candidate, Biden called the Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant families “criminal.” During the presidential transition he said, “There will be a thorough, thorough investigation of who is responsible and whether or not the responsibility is criminal and if that has been concluded the [Attorney General] will make that judgment.” But so far, no such review has been launched. In a recent court filing, the Justice Department blocked the release of Trump administration documents that detailed the planning of the “zero tolerance” policy that separated nearly 3,000 migrant families.
The White House declined to comment. DHS and DOJ did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Geoff Bennett and Monica Alba contributed.