WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is formally lifting the nation’s refugee cap to 62,500 this year, weeks after facing bipartisan blowback for his delay in lifting former President Donald Trump’s limit of 15,000.
Biden last month moved to expand the eligibility criteria for resettlements, removing one roadblock to refugees entering the U.S. put in place by Trump, but he had initially stopped short of lifting the annual cap, with aides saying they did not believe it was necessary. But Biden faced sharp pushback for not at least taking the symbolic step of authorizing more refugees to enter the U.S. this year and swiftly reversed course.
Biden, in a statement, said the new limit “erases the historically low number set by the previous administration,” adding that Trump’s cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” Biden added.
The White House said on Monday that it had every intention of raising a cap on U.S. refugee admissions and would do so by May 15 if not sooner.
“This was always meant to be just the beginning,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We … have every intention to increase the cap and to make an announcement of that by May 15 at the latest.”
Biden said it was doubtful the United States would be able to welcome a total of 62,500 refugees by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30 or reach a goal of 125,000 admissions for the 2022 fiscal year that starts in October, while they were working to improve U.S. capabilities to process refugees to be able to accept as many of them as possible under the new cap.
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“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already under way,” he said.
A White House official said Biden now wanted to raise the cap regardless of capacity limitations to “send a very clear message that refugee processing is a critical part of America’s place in the world,” acknowledging the initial lower announcement “did not send the right message.”
Delays in Biden’s decision-making on the issue led to hundreds of canceled flights for refugees already cleared to travel to the United States, often after years of waiting, refugee groups said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified Congress on Feb. 12 of a plan to raise the ceiling on admissions to 62,500, but no presidential determination followed. In an emergency declaration on April 16, Biden stated the admission of up to 15,000 refugees set by Trump this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”
“Failing to issue a new Determination undermines your declared purpose to reverse your predecessor’s refugee policies,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Biden.
The new allocation instituted by Biden added more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America and ended Trump’s restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.