• Senate Democrats are urging President Biden to accept 125,000 or more refugees next year.
  • As of June 30, the US has resettled just over 15,000 refugees in the last fiscal year.
  • The US has accepted more than 175,000 Afghans and Ukrainians in the last year through non-refugee programs.

President Joe Biden came to office pledging to rebuild a refugee resettlement program that had been all but formally dismantled by his predecessor.

But while the United States has accepted more than 175,000 people fleeing war and repression in the last year alone, the vast majority are not designated as "refugees" but rather admitted under a program, humanitarian parole, that bars them from obtaining permanent legal residency — and thus jeopardizing their ability to remain in the country under a future administration.

In a letter sent Monday, a majority of Senate Democrats, are urging Biden to revitalize the refugee program and set a "robust target" for the coming fiscal year, saying "we can and must do better." Signatories include Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

As of June 30, just over 15,000 refugees have been resettled in the US since last October, well below the cap of 125,000 that Biden set for the current fiscal year. In 1980, by contrast, when the modern refugee program began, more than 207,000 people were resettled; in 2021, the number fell to an historic low of less than 11,500.

Although people fleeing their homeland are often referred to as "refugees" when they come to the US, legally the term only applies to those who have first gone to another country — a resident of Afghanistan fleeing to Pakistan, for example — where they have then applied for resettlement in the US, a process that can take months if not years.

The sudden collapse of Afghanistan's government in August 2021 led to tens of thousands of Afghans being airlifted out of the country to US military bases. Some 79,000 were living in the US as of June, with at least 72,500 doing so under the conditions of humanitarian parole, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, more than 100,000 Ukrainians have also come to the US — with only 500 coming as refugees, CBS News reported.

"The success of these initiatives demonstrates our government's capacity to swiftly offer protection to vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution," states the letter from Senate Democrats. However, "your administration must take the necessary steps to promptly ensure the United States has a robust, functioning, durable refugee resettlement system."

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