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Biden to lift Trump-era refugee cap in May amid pushback from Democrats, advocates

  • April 17, 2021

WASHINGTON – The White House said Friday President Joe Biden plans to increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States next month, hours after facing public outcry over a surprise decision to keep a Trump-era cap in place.

The administration said earlier Biden would sign an emergency determination that would maintain the fiscal year’s target of 15,000 refugee admissions – a historically low number set by former President Donald Trump. The move, an abrupt reversal of his promise to lift the cap to 62,500, prompted immediate blowback among Democratic allies and advocacy groups.

The order instead lifted refugee admission restrictions on regions previously blocked by the Trump administration, including Africa and the Middle East, and said the president would consult with Congress “should we need to increase the number of admissions to further address the unforeseen emergency situation.”

Hours later, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president had been consulting with his advisers to determine the number of refugees that could “realistically be admitted to the United States” between now and Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year. 

“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” she said in a statement. 

Psaki said Biden was urged to immediately reverse his predecessor’s ban on refugees from certain regions. 

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

In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had announced the U.S. would allow 62,500 refugees to resettle, saying the move was “justified by grave humanitarian concerns.”

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A ‘trashed’ refugee system amid border crisis

The administration has been struggling to manage an influx of migrants, particularly youths, showing up at the U.S. southern border. 

Although the refugee resettlement program is separate from border issues, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that “it is a factor.”

drastically cut by the Trump administration. 

“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,” she said. 

The Trump administration repeatedly slashed the number of refugees allowed to come to the U.S., and Trump himself often attacked immigrants in particularly harsh rhetoric. 

During an October 2020 campaign stop in Minnesota, Trump directly attacked Biden on the issue. He said Biden would turn Minnesota “into a refugee camp … overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools, and inundating your hospitals.”

The administration intends to use all 15,000 slots for fiscal year 2021, but instead will change the allocation to include regions that had been excluded under former President Donald Trump’s administration, including Africa, Latin America and South Asia, according to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

As of March 31, the U.S. has so far admitted 2,050 refugees under the Trump administration’s 15,000 cap, according to the most recent data from the Refugee Processing Center. 

Before Friday’s reversal, Democrats in Congress were pressing Biden to formalize the 62,500 refugee cap.  

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