US President Joe Biden has formally raised the nation’s cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 this year, weeks after facing bipartisan blowback for his delay in replacing the record-low ceiling set by former US president Donald Trump.
Refugee resettlement agencies have waited for Biden to quadruple the number of refugees allowed into the US this year since Feb. 12, when a presidential proposal was submitted to the US Congress saying that he planned to do so, but the presidential determination went unsigned until Monday.
Biden said that he first needed to expand the narrow eligibility criteria put in place by Trump that had kept out most refugees. He did that last month in an emergency determination, but it also said that Trump’s cap of up to 15,000 refugees this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest,” indicating that Biden intended to keep it.
That brought sharp pushback for not at least taking the symbolic step of authorizing more refugees to enter the US this year.
US Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, called that initial limit “unacceptable” and within hours the White House made a quick course correction. The administration vowed to increase the historically low cap by May 15, but said it probably would not hit the 62,500 Biden had previously outlined.
In the end, Biden returned to that figure.
Biden said he received additional information that led him to sign the emergency presidential determination setting the cap at 62,500.
“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 said before signing it.
Biden said Trump’s cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
However, he acknowledged the “sad truth” that the US would not meet the 62,500 cap by the end of the fiscal year in September, given the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on the nation’s resettlement capabilities — some of which his administration has attributed to the Trump administration’s policies to restrict immigration.
The White House said that it was unable to act until now because the administration was being taxed by a sharp increase in unaccompanied young migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras arriving at the southern US border, though any link between the border and the government’s decision on refugees was not immediately clear.
Refugee advocates, including Durbin, accused Biden of playing politics.
Biden on Monday said that it was important to lift the number to show “America’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world.”
It also paves the way for Biden to boost the cap to 125,000 for the next fiscal year which starts in October.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that work is being done to improve US capabilities to process refugees to accept as many of them as possible under the new cap. Since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1 last year, a little over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the US.
Refugee resettlement agencies applauded Biden’s action.
“We are absolutely thrilled and relieved for so many refugee families all across the world who look to the US for protection,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine resettlement agencies in the nation. “It has a felt like a roller-coaster ride, but this is one critical step toward rebuilding the program and returning the US to our global humanitarian leadership role.”
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