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The Biden administration will more than quadruple the cap on refugee admissions into the United States this fiscal year, President Joe Biden announced on Monday, after weeks of harsh criticism from human-rights advocates and Democratic allies for his decision to keep the cap at a record low.
“Today, I am revising the United States’ annual refugee admissions cap to 62,500 for this fiscal year,” Biden said in a statement, adding that the administration’s goal is to raise the cap to 125,000 refugee admissions in the next fiscal year. The previous cap, implemented under the Trump administration, was at a mere 15,000 admissions.
“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. “We are going to rebuild what has been broken and push hard to complete the rigorous screening process for those refugees already in the pipeline for admission.”
The about-face comes after blistering attacks from Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill and in immigrant-rights circles following his announcement last month that he would maintain the Trump-era cap on refugees. Biden had initially promised to raise the cap for Fiscal Year 2021 to 62,500—the number announced on Monday—before backtracking, citing a now-waning rush of underage asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border.
That decision infuriated refugee advocates, who noted at the time that the system for refugee admissions and asylum admissions are completely separate. (Refugees apply for safe haven from war, famine, or government persecution while abroad, and undergo intense background checks before they are granted admission into the United States, while those seeking asylum can only do so when inside the United States, typically at a port of entry.)
The Biden administration at the time blamed much of the outrage on the media, which did little to persuade supporters of undoing the Trump administration’s hostile legacy on immigration.
“Failing to issue a new determination undermines your declared purpose to reverse your predecessor’s refugee policies,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter at the time. “As we face the largest global refugee crisis in history, with 29.6 million refugees worldwide, resettlement serves as a critical tool in providing protection to those fleeing persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
News of Biden’s reversal was greeted positively by advocates for refugee reform.
“President Biden has reaffirmed what so many Americans have long known—refugees are welcome here and are a blessing to our communities,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a faith-based nonprofit that supports refugees once inside the United States. “The new admissions ceiling reflects our core values as a welcoming nation, and finally aligns public policy with the unprecedented global need of millions forced from their home by violence, war, and persecution.”
Biden did, however, include a caveat in his announcement, noting “the sad truth” that the cap on refugee admissions is not a requirement—and the number of refugees admitted into the United States this fiscal year will likely fall far short of 62,500.
“We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years,” Biden said. “It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”