WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Monday it would allow 62,500 refugees to resettle in the United States this year, reversing course after the White House initially said it would keep a historically low Trump-era limit on those fleeing war, violence and persecution.
President Joe Biden made the announcement weeks after he sparked a political uproar from human rights groups and Democrats in Congress over an earlier plan to limit refugees to 15,000 – a figure set by former President Donald Trump.
“Today, I am revising the United States’ annual refugee admissions cap to 62,500 for this fiscal year,” Biden said in a statement. “This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
Advocates welcomed the announcement but said Biden needed to move quickly to help refugees who have been in limbo.
“We are relieved that the Biden administration has, after a long and unnecessary delay, kept its promise to raise the refugee admissions cap for this year to 62,500,” said Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s global policy lead.
“This announcement means the United States can finally begin to rebuild the life-saving refugee resettlement program and welcome the tens of thousands of people who have been left stranded by four years of the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies and three months of the Biden administration’s inaction,” he said.
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But even as Biden acceded to demands to welcome more refugees, the president said the U.S. was unlikely to meet the higher goal. The White House has blamed the Trump administration for dismantling the system to process refugees, draining it of staff and funding.
“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” Biden said.
“We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”
Biden said the new admissions cap will “reinforce efforts” to further expand refugee admissions, and reiterated his goal of admitting 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year. An administration official said the 125,000 goal would also be difficult to hit.
Monday’s statement represented the latest zig-zag from the White House on a key campaign promise to lift the refugee cap to 125,000.
It comes as the administration struggles to manage an influx of migrants showing up at the U.S. southern border. Although the refugee resettlement program is separate from border issues, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in April the spike in immigration was a factor in Biden’s initial move to limit refugees to 15,000.
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The April 16 decision led to a fierce blowback from within Biden’s own party.
Rep. Ilham Omar, D-Minn., called it “shameful” for Biden to keep the Trump-era cap.
“As a refugee, I know finding a home is a matter of life or death for children around the world,” she tweeted at the time.
The White House quickly backpedaled, with Psaki issuing a new statement within hours saying the president would consult with his advisers to determine how many refugees could realistically be admitted through Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year.
Monday’s announcement actually puts Biden back where he started. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress the administration planned to allow 62,500 refugees to resettle, saying the move was “justified by grave humanitarian concerns.”
Biden’s wavering on refugees comes as the world faces an unprecedented crisis. There were more than 25 million refugees across the globe as of mid-2020, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.