President Joe Biden sought to ease tensions with his political allies by quadrupling the limit on the number of refugees who can enter the US after months of administration wavering and reversals over increasing the cap.
Biden said he would allow in as many as 62,500 refugees by the end of September, up from the historically low ceiling of 15,000 set by former President Donald Trump. Biden, however, said he did not expect to reach his goal this fiscal year.
The president is seeking to move past a political blunder of his own making. His action came two weeks after the White House said he would leave Trump’s cap in place, which drew widespread condemnation from activists and lawmakers who accused Biden of reneging on a campaign pledge to reverse his predecessor’s hard-line policies.
Biden said his decision to officially set the annual cap at 62,500, his original goal, conveys his commitment to welcome people facing extreme hardship.
When the White House said last month that the president was backing down from his initial goal of raising the cap this year, aides said he would accelerate refugee resettlement in the US and look to lift the ceiling later in the year. Yet those promises didn’t assuage liberal Democrats, who were angered that he had backtracked from the higher number, first announced in February, prompting the White House to rethink its decision.
“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” Biden said.
He has encountered criticism from across the political spectrum for his handling of immigration. Republicans have said he is responsible for an influx of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. And liberal Democrats have said he hasn’t moved quickly enough to reverse Trump’s policies curbing the number of refugees allowed into the US.
“While this new administration inherited a broken immigration system that was gutted and sabotaged by the previous president, it is on all of us to fix it — quickly,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said.
“We must continue to rebuild our refugee system and reform our immigration system in a humane way that focuses on dignity, respect, and family unity,” she added.
In Trump’s final year in office, the cap was lowered to 15,000, the lowest since the Refugee Act of 1980 became law.
Republicans assailed the president for attempting to allow more refugees to enter the country. “Increasing the refugee admissions cap will put American jobs and safety at risk,” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted. “The Biden administration should be focused on getting Americans back to work.”