HBO's John Oliver Takes Biden to Task Over Refugee Admissions

By Sharon Samber,



John Oliver is sick of it. And HIAS can see his point.

In February President Biden promised to boost the refugee admissions cap and eliminate Trump-era restrictions. Two months on, with still no signature to his proposal, refugees and refugee advocacy agencies are perplexed. And now John Oliver, from the platform of his weekly HBO show Last Week Tonight, has sounded off.

“There are thousands of people now stuck in this pointless limbo,” Oliver said Sunday night with a mix of outrage and comic righteousness. “It’s an infuriating situation.” 

HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield echoed his sentiments: “It is frustrating that HIAS has to advocate that the Biden administration implement the very refugee policies which they themselves proposed, but we welcome John Oliver so forcefully and accurately making the case with us.”

Gilbertine Harerimana, shown in a clip on Oliver’s show, which averages 4.1 million viewers each week, is a client of HIAS affiliate Jewish Social Services of Madison. A pregnant Congolese refugee whose cancelled flight was mentioned is also a HIAS client.

With his trademark irreverence, Oliver summarized the situation: Biden campaigned on the issue of being more humane to immigrants; he promised to raise the admissions cap to 62,500 soon after he was inaugurated; but he still has not signed an order, and as a result refugees — even those vetted and approved for resettlement in the U.S — are unable to come.

“He just needs to sign a piece of paper,” Oliver said, and concluded that if Biden wants to be seen as 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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