| 21 April 2024, Sunday |

Biden Administration, in Response to Criticism, Says It Will Lift Refugee Cap Next Month

Facing mounting criticism from Democratic allies, the White House said President Joe Biden plans to lift his predecessor’s historically low cap on refugees by next month, after initially saying that he would leave the cap in place.

The White House issued a statement Friday saying Biden would set a “final, increased refugee cap” by May 15 for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Earlier Friday, Biden signed an executive order keeping the admission of refugees capped at 15,000 for fiscal 2021, a number set by the Trump administration. Biden said in the order that the number “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”

However, Biden also said in his order that if the cap was reached before the end of the fiscal year, then a presidential determination might be issued to raise the ceiling.

The order led to criticism from prominent Democrats, including Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, who called the refugee limit “unacceptable.”

“Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Say it ain’t so, President Joe,” Durbin said in a statement.

Following the criticism, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s original announcement had been “the subject of some confusion” and said the president was expected to increase the refugee cap by May 15. However, she did not say what the new limit would be.

Under the order Biden signed, the administration modified the allocation of refugee slots.

The order allocated 7,000 slots for refugees from Africa, 3,000 from Latin America, 1,500 from Europe and Central Asia, 1,500 from the Near East and South Asia, and 1,000 from East Asia. The remaining 1,000 slots are to be used as required.

According to the most recent data, as of April 2021, the U.S. has resettled just over 2,000 refugees since the current fiscal year began on October 1.

The 2021 ceiling is dramatically lower than in 2016, when it stood at 85,000.

Matthew Reynolds, the United Nations refugee agency’s representative to the U.S. and the Caribbean said his agency is “encouraged by the announcement of a planned increase, to be formalized by May 15, in the number of refugees who will be given the chance this year to begin rebuilding their lives in safety and dignity in the United States. Refugee resettlement saves lives,” he said in a statement.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said before Biden’s late statement Friday that her organization was grateful for the president’s move to revise refugee policy but was “deeply” disappointed that the administration left in place the record-low admissions cap of its predecessor.

“While it is true the Trump administration left the resettlement infrastructure in tatters, we feel confident and able to serve far more families than this order accounts for,” Vignarajah said in a statement.

Biden sent a plan to Congress, as required by law, two months ago to raise the refugee ceiling to 62,500. The president also wanted to get rid of restrictions enforced by former President Donald Trump that have excluded a high number of refugees, including those fleeing war. Though the presidential action does not require congressional approval, presidents in the past announced a refugee cap shortly after the notification to Congress.