Biden accelerates refugee admissions but stops short of lifting Trump cap

Elias Hubbard
April 17, 2021

"Today's order did that", White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

Biden, who took office in January, had signaled two months ago plans to raise the cap to 62,500 during the 2021 fiscal year ending on September 30, but held off on actually doing so.

She blamed Mr Biden's failure to deliver on the 62,500 figure that he announced to Congress two months ago on "the decimated refugee admissions programme we inherited".

With that done, we expect the President to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.

Despite his campaign promise, the State Department's recommendation, and a plea from fellow Democrats, Biden will continue with Trump's refugee cap number of 15,000. He will set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need.

Biden's determination stated that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees this year "remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest". Advocates did say that changing the Trump-era allocations could allow for a wider group of refugees to be reconsidered for resettlement.

According to the report, midway through the 2021 fiscal year, only 2,050 refugees had been admitted to the U.S., marking a "new historical low".

The move was deeply unpopular among congressional Democrats. President Biden had the opportunity to fulfill his campaign pledge and to deliver on his promises to protect the rights of and well-being of refugees, to place human rights at the center of US foreign policy, and to restore USA global leadership.

Jenny Yang, senior vice-president at World Relief, a humanitarian organisation, told CNN that White House claims the USA refugee resettlement programme needed to be rebuilt after the Trump years was "a completely false narrative".

Biden has not fulfilled his promise to restore America's leadership as a safe haven for the world's oppressed, he added.

"That build-back is and has been happening and will enable us to support much increased admissions numbers in future years", the official said.

Maintaining the Trump-era admissions level of 15,000 leaves thousands of refugees stranded in camps in places like Kenya, Tanzania and Jordan.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The administration now says its widely-panned announcement was meant only to ease restrictions from countries from which refugees are banned and that Mr Biden would raise the cap by 15 May.

"This Biden administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable", said Sen Dick Durbin, D-Ill, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But to many refugees today, that light became a flicker".

But the changes to the program, and any potential rise in admissions next month, would be too late for some refugees who had prepared to travel to the United States this month after the administration made its initial commitment.

"Thank God", Omar wrote on Twitter in response to the news.

Refugee resettlement agencies applauded the move to speed admissions and provide more slots but were disheartened that Biden is for now keeping the cap set by Trump.

The IRC report released earlier this week estimated that if the Biden White House continues its trajectory, the United States would admit 4,510 refugees during the 2021 fiscal year, which represents less than half the number from the last year of the Trump administration.

CNN, citing anonymous sources, reported on Thursday that Biden has allegedly resisted raising the refugee cap over political optics, as the surge of migrants, particularly children, continues to fill up government holding centres at the southern border. The White House has denied such accusations.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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