June 20 was World Refugee Day, but unlike the past few years, the number of displaced people surpassed 100 million this year, meaning 1 in 78 people on Earth has been forced to flee their homes. It’s a dramatic milestone that few could have expected a decade ago.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

President Joe Biden committed to resettling 125,000 refugees this year and rebuilding the Refugee Admissions Program. The president did not uphold his campaign promise of rebuilding those programs to support all people seeking asylum. As of May 9, the United States has only admitted 10,842 refugees, which is only 8% of the 125,000 the president promised. The United States must not break its promise of helping those fleeing danger and persecution. We expect Biden to do better.

Welcoming refugees is a core American value. The diverse population of refugees and immigrants add to the cultures and economy of our country. Let the word “welcoming” not mislead you into believing that it is easy for refugees to move to the United States. Our country has the most stringent resettlement process in the world, one that includes multiple levels of background checks and investigations by many U.S. security agencies such as the FBI, Homeland Security, the State Department and others. Every refugee has to go through dozens of interviews with our country’s top security and counter-terrorist agencies before they are admitted. Many are denied entry with no explanations.

The administration before Biden’s made critical decisions that impacted thousands of refugees. The United States Refugee Resettlement Program was completely destroyed during the Trump administration; the program was understaffed, undermined in policy and had an underfunded budget. This is the program that could have provided hope to those 100 million displaced globally, including those fleeing Ukraine today. Biden’s election restored the hopes of those who have waited for years in refugee camps to resettle to the United States through several of his campaigns. That hope is fading away; the persistent delays in the admissions program will not work for those waiting in uncertainty.

On the night of June 20, the world lit up blue for World Refugee Day from Geneva and Paris to New York. Famous spots such as the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and many others were lit in blue in solidarity with refugees worldwide. Many resettled refugees like myself will often call close family members or friends to tell stories of our experiences as refugees. I often call my brother, who is now resettled in Canada after being denied entry into the U.S. We talk about many experiences we’ve had together. Our favorite story to tell is one in which we pretended we were Americans at a time when we were nowhere near coming to the United States, back in 2013. I often wore my favorite T-shirt with the stars and stripes painted all over. I walked with my head high, but what I had in my pocket was a piece of a refugee document that read, “This is to certify that the bearer of this letter is a prima facie refugee under the United Nations High Commission for Refugee Mandate in Kenya.” I was a proud American by heart.

We expect our elected officials to keep their promises. It is not a duty of office only but a moral responsibility of our nation. President Biden has time to fulfill his promise. His administration must rebuild the admissions program to increase the number of refugees so it’s higher than 8%.

America has always been made exceptional by those dreamers who can hold their heads high in the most difficult moments of their lives, loving its culture and wearing its flag.

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