The L.A. Times also cited an anonymous senior administration official, who told the paper that “we don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature.” Later that year, a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a crowd that had shouted “Jews will not replace us!” the night before, used a car to mow down anti-racist protesters. Trump memorably equated the two groups, insisting that there were “fine people on both sides.”
Two weeks later, the future president, Joe Biden, wrote in The Atlantic that the murder of Heather Heyer, the growing confidence of white-nationalist groups, and Trump’s defense of them had deeply affected him.
“We have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support,” Biden wrote. “If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.”
Biden returned to a battle for the soul of this nation as a campaign theme in 2020—successfully, as it turned out. Which raises the mystery of why President Biden is quietly maintaining one of the Trump era’s most discriminatory policies and a key element of Trump advisers’ broader agenda of making America white again: the throttling of refugee admissions. (The limits the Trump administration placed on refugee admissions are distinct from its attack on the asylum process, which was undertaken with similar intentions.)
In 2020, only about 12,000 refugees were admitted to the United States—a steep decline from 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, when about 85,000 were admitted. This year, despite having vowed to reverse Trump’s discriminatory immigration policies, the Biden administration is on track to admit even fewer refugees, having allowed in only about 2,000 so far, according to a report from the International Rescue Committee. The Trump-era restrictions, the report notes, “have amounted to a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees. These policies, in the sordid tradition of the Muslim and Africa Ban, have undeniably discriminatory impacts along lines of nationality and religion.”
America’s military misadventures over the past few decades have shown the folly of attempting to remake the world through force. But one morally righteous and uncomplicated action that the United States can take to help those suffering under repressive governments, violent extremists, or climate catastrophes is allowing them to live here and contribute to American society, as generations of refugees have done before them. In some cases, these refugees are fleeing circumstances created or exacerbated by American foreign policy, and admitting them is the least the United States can do.