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Biden keeps U.S. refugee cap at 15,000 - for now

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The White House was on the defensive Friday after President Biden signed an order to keep the U.S. refugee cap at a historically low 15,000 for now, opting against raising it to 62,500 – a number he had been considering for two months.

The decision was a blow to refugee advocates who had wanted Biden to move swiftly to reverse the policies, of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who had set the 15,000 cap as a way to limit immigration.

Democrats blasted Biden’s decision on Twitter. Representative Ilhan Omar - who was once a refugee herself - called Biden's decision "shameful"

And Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez tweeted that the move was quote “Completely and utterly unacceptable. Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise....Keep your promise."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin in statement called Biden’s decision “unacceptable”.

Later on Friday as criticism mounted, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the announcement was quote “the subject of some confusion” and that the final refugee cap for the year would be set by May 15th.

The president’s decision to delay issuing the revised refugee cap for this year appeared tied to concerns over the optics of admitting more refugees amid rising levels of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, and appearing quote “too open” or “soft”, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the matter.

One upside for advocates - under an emergency presidential determination signed by Biden, the U.S. will offer refugee status to a wider part of the world that had been restricted by Trump, including parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Biden pledged in February to increase the number of refugees admitted in the next fiscal year to 125,000.

Psaki also said in a tweet on Friday that the president’s decision was quote “just the beginning” and that the White House administration was committed to continuing to increase the refugee numbers.