John Oliver calls on Biden to ‘pick up a f—ing pen’ over refugee admissions

On Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver called on President Joe Biden to keep a campaign promise he made and restore America as a haven for refugees fleeing persecution. Biden said he would reverse former President Donald Trump’s restrictive and discriminatory policies regarding the Refugee Admissions Program, but his administration so far has not done so, and it’s not clear why. 

Oliver said that Biden has spoken about the need for America to welcome people seeking a better life (“you know, send me your huddled masses, c’mon”). In early February, Biden announced that he was going to undo Trump’s Muslim and African-refugee-excluding policies and raise the limit on the number of admissions to from 15,000 to 62,500 this year and set it even higher next year.

But that was two months ago, and Biden still hasn’t signed the Presidential Determination that would undo Trump’s policies, Oliver said, and it’s been hard to get a straight answer about the delay. The HBO host played a montage of clips of journalists asking White House press secretary Jen Psaki why Biden hasn’t signed the order and Psaki evading the question. 

“Props to Jen Psaki there,” Oliver said. “Only a few months into the job and she’s already waving away concerns about stranded refugees with the ease of a Spirit Airlines gate agent letting you know your flight’s delayed: ‘Rest assured, we’re committed to getting you to Orlando eventually. We just can’t tell you where your plane is, why it’s taking so long and what year you might arrive.'”

Oliver then explained what’s really at stake with Biden’s inaction: There are currently almost 115,000 refugees already in various stages of the resettlement process, and more than 35,000 of them have been approved for admission into the United States. But until Biden signs the order, “they are still beholden to Trump’s low admission ceiling and bullsh– racist rules,” Oliver said. 

Oliver noted that in March alone, more than 700 refugees had their flights canceled. “Remember, these are vulnerable people who may have surrendered their belongings or homes in anticipation of leaving the country or who are having to wait in camps,” he said. And delays mean their health and security clearances might expire, leaving them to have to start the process over again. Oliver shared the story of a Congolese woman who was supposed to come here in early March whose ticket was canceled and now can’t travel because she’s in her third trimester of pregnancy, and then her baby will have to go through a separate screening process which could take months. Oliver thought this was a weird policy, “because I’m relatively sure you can’t have foreign allegiances before you have object f—ing permanence.”

Oliver noted that Biden could end the suffering of refugees and their loved ones with the stroke of a pen. “And for a guy who clearly wanted to be the person who ‘restored the soul of America,’ it is past time for him to look deep into his own, pick up a f—ing pen, and do the right thing.”

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