In 2020, former President Donald Trump set a 15,000 cap on the number of refugees the U.S. would accept annually from around the globe, a limit President Joe Biden vowed earlier this year to increase to as many as 65,000.
Yet, in a memo on the refugee cap issued Friday morning, the number remained the same, prompting immediate backlash from fellow Democrats and immigration activists. The White House quickly buckled under the pressure and released a subsequent statement reiterating the promise to raise the cap by mid-May, the Washington Examiner reported.
Biden expands eligible nations
In the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for 2021, Biden expanded the number of nations and regions from which individuals would be automatically accepted as refugees — presuming they cleared the vetting process — but retained the cap of 15,000 total.
The memo further specified how those 15,000 available refugee slots would be distributed among certain troubled regions around the globe, and left open the possibility that, once the limit was reached, the cap could later be raised if deemed necessary.
As the Examiner noted, the failure to immediately increase the cap to 65,000, as had been previously promised, didn’t sit well with many Democrats and advocates who had demanded that he do so.
Current border crisis “a factor” in refugee cap
The topic was raised during Friday’s briefing with White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who was asked if Biden’s decision to not raise the cap was in related to the surge of migrants at the southern border — some of whom are seeking refugee status and come from Central American nations Biden added to the list of accepted locations.
Psaki said there would be “more news on this today, so stay tuned,” while also acknowledging that the border situation was indeed a factor, given that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was involved in both aspects, “and so we have to ensure that there is capacity and ability to manage both.”
“Now, I will say that the other piece that has been a factor is that it took us some time to see and evaluate how — how ineffective or how trashed, in some ways, the refugee processing system had become,” she added in reference to the prior administration. “And so we had to rebuild some of those muscles and put it back in place.”
Cap will be increased by May 15
Psaki reiterated that there would be “more news” on the subject later in the day, and she followed through with the release of a clarifying statement to address the “confusion” of the earlier directive from Biden.
“For the past few weeks, he has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1,” Psaki said in the statement. “Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely.”
“While finalizing that determination, the President was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that,” she added. “With that done, we expect the President to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.”
Notably, she did not specify exactly what that refugee cap would be increased to, but given how quickly the White House caved to the pressure, it seems likely to be the previously promised 65,000, if not higher.