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Following backlash, Biden lifts refugee cap to 62,500

But the president expressed doubt in actually achieving that many admissions within the five months left in the current fiscal year

President Joe Biden said his proposed budget  reflects his intent to raise the cap to 125,000  admissions in his first full fiscal year.
President Joe Biden said his proposed budget reflects his intent to raise the cap to 125,000 admissions in his first full fiscal year. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden said Monday he would raise the refugee admissions cap for the current fiscal year to 62,500, revising an earlier announcement that would have maintained historically low Trump-era levels.

“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he said in a statement.

[Biden walks back low refugee cap after lawmaker outrage]

The revised figure reflects the refugee admissions number Biden had promised during his campaign and early presidency. After a delay in officially signing the paperwork for raising the cap, Biden surprised Democratic lawmakers and refugee activists on April 16 when he announced he would keep the cap at the previous level of 15,000 admissions. He backtracked hours later after swift condemnation.

Still, the White House warned Monday that the U.S. would likely resettle fewer than 62,500 refugees during the five remaining months of fiscal 2021. The administration argued the Trump administration had dismantled the refugee resettlement infrastructure too deeply to repair in one year. Biden said he aims to raise the admissions cap to 125,000 for fiscal 2022, his first full year in office.

“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.”

In last month’s announcement, the White House said the lower ceiling was a result of the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, where the government is struggling to accommodate thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed in recent weeks.

“We’re going to increase the number. The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people,” Biden said last month. “We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”

The original announcement, while keeping the overall cap, altered restrictive Trump-era regional allocations, paving the way for more refugees from majority-Muslim nations.

The new determination “reflects the urgent, global nature of the refugee crisis and the part the United States will play by permitting more eligible refugees to be admitted to the United States,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement.

Congressional Democrats applauded the news. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., called the announcement “an integral step towards fulfilling your promise, @POTUS.”

“We must be a nation committed to welcoming refugees. Anything less is unacceptable,” he said in a tweet.

But Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who fled Somalia as a refugee during her childhood, was more judicious.

“We are now one step closer to welcoming Refugees, but not there yet,” she said in a tweet. “Complacency is not how we get anything done, let’s keep pushing and demanding more. The capacity is there and we must continue to create the will.”

Refugee advocates, who have urged the White House to raise the admissions cap, signaled relief at the revised number.

“Communities across the United States, from local groups to faith-based institutions, are ready to welcome their new neighbors and thousands of people around the world are waiting to rebuild their new lives in safety and join their loved ones in this country,” Joanne Lin, director of advocacy and government affairs at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

The resettlement agencies also indicated that they are prepared to revamp their resettlement infrastructure in response to the higher number.

“The challenge of ramping up admissions to this level is daunting, but America has risen to the occasion before,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a major resettlement agency. “Given the global need, we must do it again.”

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