Biden moved to revise controversial regional refugee limits set by the Trump administration but will keep refugee admissions in fiscal 2021 to a historically low 15,000.
President Joe Biden will keep the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country this year at the historically low level set by the Trump administration, reneging on a pledge made just months ago to welcome more than 60,000 refugees into the U.S. through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Biden in February pledged to open the U.S for more people fleeing persecution and said he planned to raise the refugee ceiling from the 15,000 set for fiscal 2021 by the former administration to 62,500.
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[ READ Long Shadow of Trump's Refugee Restrictions Threatens Biden's Bid to Up Admissions ]
The president instead issued a presidential determination on Friday that could speed admissions but kept the cap at 15,000. The order does, however, reallocate controversial regional limits set by the Trump administration, designating more refugee spots for people from Africa, Central America and the Middle East, and doing away with Trump-era restrictions on refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
If the 15,000-refugee limit is met before the end of the fiscal year, "a subsequent Presidential Determination may be issued to increase admissions, as appropriate," Friday's determination said.
"America needs to rebuild our refugee resettlement program. We will use all 15,000 slots under the new Determination and work with Congress on increasing admissions and building back to the numbers to which we've committed," Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said in a tweet.
The move to keep the cap at a historic low drew immediate condemnation from immigration advocates, refugee service providers and others, and marks a significant reversal from the Biden administration's early, full-throated pledges to rebuild immigration systems decimated under Trump.
"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged. But that's precisely what we're going to do," Biden said during a speech at the State Department in February. Biden also pledged to raise the refugee ceiling for 2022 to 125,000. The White House did not comment Friday on next year's refugee determination.
The move comes as the administration faces increasing political pressure over the situation at the southwest border, where an influx of unaccompanied migrant children has overwhelmed government buildings and sent the administration scrambling to stand up additional shelters and facilities.
Unaccompanied migrant children stay in the care of the Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement until they are released to a sponsor. The office also has a hand in settling refugees, but asylum-seekers at the border and international refugees go through distinctly different and separate processes. The vetting process for refugees can take up two years in some cases.
The administration has been pressed since February on when it planned to officially raise the refugee ceiling. Press secretary Jen Psaki attempted to explain the delay Friday.
"It took us some time to see and evaluate how ineffective, or how trashed in some ways the refugee processing system had become, and so we had to rebuild some of those muscles and put it back in place," Psaki said.
Refugee agencies, however, have said they're ready to dramatically step up admissions and rebuild the resettlement system.
In a statement Friday, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of eight resettlement organizations in the U.S., cheered Biden's move to alter regional refugee allotments but denounced Biden's decision to keep the record-low ceiling in place.
"It is deeply disappointing that the administration has elected to leave in place the shameful, 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," Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and chief executive officer of the organization, said in a statement.
Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sharply criticized the president Friday.
"By failing to issue a revised Determination, the White House has not only stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance into the United States, but also it has prevented the Department of State from admitting vetted refugees currently waiting in the system who do not fit into the unprecedentedly narrow refugee categories designated by the Trump administration," Menendez said in a statement. "Failing to issue a new Determination undermines your declared purpose to reverse your predecessor's refugee policies and to rebuild the Refugee Admissions Program to a target of 125,000 people in FY22, and threatens U.S. leadership on forced migration."
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Trump, who campaigned on an anti-immigrant message, targeted the refugee program as soon as he took office, almost immediately slashing admissions from 110,000 to 50,000 and pushing the cap down further each year.
It was an enormous deviation for the program, which has been robustly supported by both Republican and Democratic presidents and held up as an example of American's moral leadership. The annual ceiling on admissions has historically averaged about 95,000.
Tags: refugees, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, immigration, immigration reform
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