U.S. to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in 2022

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The U.S. government will aim to resettle up to 125,000 refugees in the next 12 months, cementing President Biden's campaign promise to reverse the historic cuts made to the refugee program during the Trump administration, according to a proposal submitted to Congress on Monday.

The 125,000-spot refugee cap for fiscal year 2022, which starts in October, will mark a 733% increase from the historic low 15,000-person ceiling former President Donald Trump set before leaving office.

While it is the highest U.S. refugee ceiling since the early 1990s, the fiscal year 2022 cap, like its previous iterations, will be a target that does not require the government to resettle a precise number of people fleeing war and persecution across the globe.

The current fiscal year 2021 refugee cap, which the Biden administration was forced to raise to 62,500 spots this spring after backlash from progressive allies, will not be met, as just 7,637 refugees have been admitted into the U.S. so far in the past 11 months. That figure does not include the tens of thousands of Afghans admitted into the country in recent weeks.

According to its 44-page notification to Congress, the Biden administration plans to distribute 40,000 refugee spots for Africa, 35,000 for the Near East and South Asia, 15,000 for East Asia, 15,000 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 10,000 for Europe and Central Asia and 10,000 unallocated spots.

During fiscal year 2022, the U.S. will give "particular focus" to resettling Central Americans fleeing violence, LGBTQ refugees, Afghans who worked for U.S.-based organizations, at-risk Uyghurs, Hong Kong dissidents and refugees from Burma, including members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, according to the notification.

The administration said it would also unveil a private sponsorship program during the coming fiscal year that will allow non-governmental groups and individuals in the U.S. to finance the resettlement of refugees. The initiative is likely to mirror a program in Canada that has broad support there.

In the past years, refugee resettlement in the U.S. was severely scaled back due to Trump-era restrictions and the coronavirus pandemic, which temporarily suspended admissions.

In addition to gutting the U.S. refugee program, which has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, the Trump administration narrowed who could be resettled in the U.S. as a refugee, restrictions that disproportionately affected people fleeing war and persecution in Africa and the Middle East.

Processing and resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022 would be a gargantuan undertaking for the Biden administration and the nine national resettlement agencies that help the government integrate refugees into U.S. communities.

Because of the Trump-era cuts, the refugee resettlement agencies have closed offices and scaled back services. In its notification to Congress, the Biden administration said it will "pursue a variety of funding initiatives and program strategies" to help resettlement agencies accommodate the arrival of 65,000 refugees during the beginning of fiscal year 2022. 

There are currently 26.4 million refugees around the world, roughly half of whom are children, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The effort to rebuild the country's refugee program comes as the Biden administration scrambles to resettle Afghans who have been brought to the U.S. following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Approximately 53,000 Afghans who were determined to be in danger of being harmed in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan are undergoing vaccination and processing at eight military sites across the U.S. mainland, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told CBS News on Monday.

The Afghans who arrived in the U.S. this summer did not enter the country through the refugee resettlement program. Many were granted parole, a special humanitarian tool, because they did not have approved visas.

While some have pending special immigrant visa applications because of their assistance to the U.S. and its allies, other Afghans who entered the U.S. under parole do not have a direct pathway to permanent residency, which refugees receive after living in the U.S. for a year. 

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