President Joe Biden has managed an incredibly successful vaccination rollout against COVID-19 — more than 250 million first doses delivered. He also made strides reassembling the functions of government and restoring civility in public life, all during his first 100 days in office.
But he is no different from other politicians, despite early successes. Citizens still must hold their leaders to account, especially when they try to avoid keeping promises or when they aren’t managing a situation well.
For whatever reason — politics, the inherited mess of a broken immigration system, his focus on handling the pandemic — Biden has stumbled on the issue of who should be allowed to come to the United States and how.
Just this week, Biden reversed himself and agreed to allow as many as 62,500 refugees to enter the United States during the next six months. That correctly will reverse the previous administration’s sharp limits on people trying to come to the United States to escape war, natural disasters or violence.
Previously, Biden had announced he would allow only 15,000 refugees, holding to former President Donald Trump’s historically low numbers. That was wrong. The backlash caused him to change his mind in just two weeks.
Not only was it wrong — the United States is historically a refuge for displaced people — it broke an important campaign promise.
During the presidential campaign, Biden promised to allow as many as 125,000 refugees to enter by 2022. He reiterated that in February, noting as many as 62,500 refugees could be admitted for the rest of the fiscal year ending in September. That was to be a down payment on the bigger promise.
Then came April, when, after months of waffling, Biden abruptly changed course and announced he would keep Trump’s limits. It was a bad decision, demonstrating the thorny nature of the immigration issue.
He had postponed following through on his refugee promise because of a surge of migrants on the border, many of them asylum-seekers. Biden was concerned the system could not handle refugees and a border surge. Yet the refugee system is separate. The daily news reports of a “crisis” on the border, with poignant shots of unaccompanied minors, weighed on the president.
His own team warned him against keeping the cap on refugees, but Biden overruled them. The justifiable anger from supporters was swift and fierce.
And now, Biden has changed course. That’s reassuring, in a sense. An adult recognizes a mistake quickly and fixes the situation, as Biden did. But the mistake shouldn’t have been made in the first place.
Much of the real work on immigration and the refugee system, of course, is happening behind the scenes. Hires are being made so agencies have enough people to do the work. Already, the number of children held in U.S. Border Patrol facilities has dropped by 84 percent since a peak in March. On Monday, the U.S. announced it would reunite the first four families separated under Trump border policy — with more to come.
Vice President Kamala Harris has been tasked with looking at why people are fleeing their countries, focusing on Central America’s disastrous conditions and finding policy solutions.
For now, Biden is back on the right track after months of indecisiveness. But should he waffle again, it’s up to voters and his fellow Democrats to remind him to keep his promises. That’s what the people deserve and what a president must deliver.