WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Friday stuck with his predecessor’s historically low cap of 15,000 refugees for this year and instead moved to accelerate admissions, triggering an outcry from resettlement agencies and even Biden allies that he was backpedaling on a key promise.
Many were surprised Biden did not replace the cap by former President Donald Trump, having submitted a plan to Congress two months ago to quadruple that number. The administration has indicated he may still do so.
Biden instead signed an emergency determination to adjust the allocation limits imposed by Trump that have disqualified a significant number of refugees, including those fleeing war.
A senior administration official said Biden’s new allocations could result in speedier admissions of already screened and vetted refugees in a manner of days. The new allocations provide more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America and lift Trump's restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Refugee resettlement agencies were disheartened Biden did not touch Trump’s cap, the lowest since the program began 41 years ago.
“It sends an important message to make it higher and now Biden will still be presiding over and has essentially put his stamp of approval on the lowest refugee admissions cap in history at a time of global crisis,” said Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Maryland-based Jewish nonprofit that is one of nine agencies that resettles refugees in the U.S.
Biden's determination stated that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest." But should the cap be reached before the end of the current budget year and the emergency refugee situation persists, then a presidential determination may be issued to raise the ceiling.
Since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S.