WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said on Monday it would allow 62,500 refugees to resettle in the United States this year, turning the tide after the White House initially said it would maintain a historically low Trump-era limit for those fleeing war, violence and persecution.
President Joe Biden made the announcement weeks after he sparked a political outcry 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 annual limit for refugee admissions to the United States 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.”
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Advocates welcomed the announcement, but said Biden needed to act quickly to help refugees who found themselves in limbo.
“We are relieved that the Biden administration has, after a long and unnecessary delay, kept its promise to raise the refugee admission limit for this year to 62,500,” said Noah Gottschalk, head of global policy at Oxfam America.
This announcement means the United States can finally begin to rebuild the life-saving refugee resettlement program and welcome the tens of thousands who have been left stranded by the Trump administration’s four years of xenophobic policies and three months the Biden administration’s inaction, “he said.
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But even though Biden acceded to requests to take in more refugees, the president said the United States was unlikely to meet the higher target. The White House blamed the Trump administration for dismantling the refugee processing system, draining it of staff and funding.
“The sad truth is that we won’t get 62,500 admissions this year,” Biden said.
“We are working quickly to repair the damage of the past four years. It will take time, but this work is already underway.”
Biden said the new admission cap “will strengthen efforts” to further expand refugee admissions, and reiterated his goal of admitting 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year.
Monday’s statement represented the White House’s latest zig-zag on a key campaign pledge to raise the refugee cap to 125,000.
It comes as the administration struggles to deal with an influx of migrants arriving at the southern border of the United States. Although the refugee resettlement program is separate from border issues, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in April that the rise in immigration was a factor in Biden’s initial decision to limit refugees to 15,000.
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The April 16 decision sparked a fierce backlash within Biden’s own party.
Representative Ilham Omar, D-Minn., Called it “shameful” that Biden is keeping the Trump-era ceiling.
“As a refugee, I know that finding accommodation is a matter of life and death for children around the world,” she tweeted at the time.
The White House quickly backed down, 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 until October 1, the end of the fiscal year.
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Monday’s announcement brings Biden back to where he started. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress that the administration planned to allow 62,500 refugees to resettle, saying the move was “justified by serious humanitarian concerns.”
Biden’s hesitation over refugees comes as the world faces an unprecedented crisis. There were more than 25 million refugees in the world as of mid-2020, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.