Joe Biden has not lifted Donald Trump’s historically low cap of 15,000 refugee admissions for this year, going back on an earlier pledge to welcome more than 60,000 refugees into the US.
The president on Friday signed an emergency determination that officials said would speed refugee admissions to the US, but he did not immediately lift his predecessor’s cap.
In February, Biden pledged to raise the refugee cap for the next fiscal year to 125,000 and signaled he would try to make a “down payment” on that this year. The administration said it planned to allow up to 62,500 refugees to enter the country.
“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 at the time.
However, Biden is instead adjusting the allocation limits set by the former president, which officials said have been the driving factor in limiting refugee admissions. The new allocations provide more spaces for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America, and lift Trump’s restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Since the fiscal year began on 1 October, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the US. A senior administration official said Biden’s new allocations could result in speedier admissions of already screened and vetted refugees in a matter of days.
Earlier on Friday, progressive lawmakers called on Biden to fulfill his campaign pledge and increase the number of refugees admitted to the US this fiscal year.
“Having fought for four years against the Trump administration’s full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your administration,” congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal and Jan Schakosky wrote in a letter, co-signed by dozens of other Democratic lawmakers.
“But until the emergency Presidential determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory.”
A senior administration official, speaking to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said the priority was moving to adjust from which areas refugees would be admitted.
Under Biden’s new allocation, about 7,000 spaces are reserved for refugees from Africa, 1,000 from east Asia, 1,500 from Europe and central Asia, 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 1,600 from the Near East and south Asia, and a reserve of about 1,000 spaces to be used as needed.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday that the delay in Biden acting was because “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”.
Another concern has been the record pace of unaccompanied migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, which has drawn in many of the resources that would go to vetting, processing and resettling refugees in the US.
“It is a factor,” said Psaki, noting that the Office of Refugee Resettlement “does management and has personnel working on both issues and so we have to ensure that there is capacity and ability to manage both”.