Biden quadruples Trump refugee cap after delay backlash

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (May 4, 2021) — President Joe Biden formally raised the nation's cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 this year.

Refugee resettlement agencies have waited for Biden to quadruple the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year since Feb. 12, when a presidential proposal was submitted to Congress saying he planned to do so.

But the presidential determination went unsigned until Monday. Biden said 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 stated 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 Biden intended to keep it.

That brought sharp pushback for not at least taking the symbolic step of authorizing more refugees to enter the U.S. this year. The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, 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 the White House 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 stated before signing it.

Biden said Trump’s cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”

But he acknowledged the “sad truth” that the U.S. would not meet the 62,500 cap by the end of the fiscal year in September, given the pandemic and limitations on the country’s resettlement capabilities — some of which his administration has attributed to the Trump administration’s policies to restrict immigration.

The White House insisted 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 U.S. 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 said Monday 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 2022 fiscal year that starts in October.

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