After criticism, Biden says he will raise US cap on refugee admissions

Refugees displaced by a government offensive at a tent camp above Afrin, Syria, on Feb 1, 2021.
Refugees displaced by a government offensive at a tent camp above Afrin, Syria, on Feb 1, 2021.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE (REUTERS) - President Joe Biden said on Saturday (April 17) he will raise the cap on the number of refugees admitted this year to the United States, a day after he drew criticism from Democratic lawmakers for agreeing to keep the historically low figure in place.

Biden signed an order on Friday extending a 15,000 refugee admissions cap issued by his predecessor Donald Trump through the end of September. In signing the order, Biden shelved a plan announced in February to increase the cap to 62,500.

Biden told reporters in Delaware on Saturday after playing golf that he would go beyond the 15,000 limit.

"We are going to increase the number. Problem was the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up at the border with young people. We couldn't do two things at once, so now we are going to raise the number," he said.

With Biden under criticism from lawmakers and refugee advocacy groups, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday he planned to "set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15."

Biden's order to limit admissions to 15,000 was a blow to advocacy groups that wanted the Democratic president to move swiftly to reverse the refugee policies of the Republican Trump, who had set the figure as a way to limit immigration.

The programme for admitting refugees is distinct from the asylum system for migrants. Refugees must be vetted while still overseas and cleared for entry to the United States, unlike migrants who arrive at a US border and then request asylum.

Biden's cautious approach appears to have been tied to concerns over the optics of admitting more refugees at a time of rising numbers of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border in recent months, and to not wanting to look "too open" or "soft", another US official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Friday.

Psaki said Friday Biden's "initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely... given the decimated refugee admissions programme we inherited."

Republicans have blamed Biden for the situation at the border, faulting his moves to reverse other Trump-era hardline immigration policies.