Facing Fierce Backlash, White House Rushes to Course Correct on Refugee Cap
A new statement came just hours after the president issued a determination to keep the refugee resettlement limit at a historic low set by the Trump administration, sparking immediate pushback from allies.
The White House said late Friday afternoon that President Joe Biden plans to raise the annual refugee admissions limit in May – a statement that came just hours after Biden issued a presidential determination keeping the annual cap to a historical low set by the Trump administration, sparking immediate, forceful condemnation from Democratic lawmakers, refugee agencies and others.
The determination issued Friday kept the annual ceiling at a record low of 15,000, reneging on a promise Biden made in February to raise the limit to 62,500 for fiscal 2021. The order did, however, reallocate controversial regional caps set by the former administration and said that the administration might increase the cap if 15,000 refugees are resettled before the end of the year.
The backlash to Biden’s decision to maintain Trump’s ceiling was swift and strong.
Democratic lawmakers issued a flurry of statements. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois called it “unacceptable.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said it was “unconscionable.” Sen Bob Mendenez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared that the move “threatens U.S. leadership on forced migration.”
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia at the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 15, 2021. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
In the face of the wave of criticism, Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a subsequent statement saying that the directive had been the subject of “some confusion” and indicating that Biden would raise the cap next month – information that Psaki did not share at a press conference earlier in the day or when the president’s directive was issued.
“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, [Biden’s] initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” Psaki said. “While finalizing that determination, the President was urged 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. With that done, we expect the President to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.”
Refugee ceilings are caps, and the number of admitted refugees has in some years been significantly lower than the ceiling.
An influx of unaccompanied migrant minors at the border has strained the resources of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, but the asylum system and the refugee system are distinctly separate – though ORR has had to dip into refugee resettlement funding to pay for the care of unaccompanied minors, according to The Wall Street Journal.