After outcry, Biden plans to lift refugee cap in May

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President Joe Biden leaves after speaking about Russia in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden plans to lift his predecessor’s historically low cap on refugees by next month, after initially moving only to expand the eligibility criteria for resettlements and getting swift blowback from allies in return.

In an emergency determination signed Friday, Biden stated the admission of up to 15,000 refugees set by President Donald Trump this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.” But if the cap is 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.

That set off a deluge of criticism from top allies on Capitol Hill such as the second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who called that initial limit “unacceptable.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later that Biden is expected to increase the refugee cap by May 15, though she didn't say by how much.

Asked Saturday by reporters about the cap, Biden didn't offer new details. “We’re going to increase the number," he said after golfing in Wilmington, Delaware. "The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”

Biden’s use of the word “crisis” raised some eyebrows — and caused an uproar among some on the right — because the White House had bent over backwards in recent weeks to avoid the politically charged term to describe the situation at the border, opting instead for words like “challenge.” But the White House also insisted that it was taking the matter seriously no matter the nomenclature, but any link between the border and the administration’s decision on refugees was not immediately clear.

Biden has been consulting with his advisers to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year, Psaki said. “Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited,” she said it’s now “unlikely” Biden will be able to boost that number to 62,500, as he had proposed in his plan to Congress two months ago.

But Biden, she said, was urged by advisers to “take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that."