The president will reexamine the number of refugees the U.S. will accept by May 15, the White House said Friday.
WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden will revise the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States in May after receiving criticism from fellow Democrats Friday for initially keeping the cap at the same level as the Trump administration.
The president’s decision would have reneged a February promise by Biden to welcome more than 60,000 people from war torn areas or immigrants seeking other opportunities. For the fiscal year ending in September, the administration planned to host about 62,500 of those refugees in country. The president has pledged to raise the total even further, to 125,000 refugees, by the following fiscal year beginning in October.
A presidential memorandum on American refugees entering the country released Friday outlines that “an unforeseen emergency refugee situation now exists,” due to unpredictable humanitarian crises as a result of Covid-19’s impact on global communities.
In a statement made later in the day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the the administration had largely been focused on determining how many asylum seekers could be admitted before now and Oct. 1. Due to the decimated refugee admissions program the White House inherited, she said, the initial goal of 62,500 seemed untenable.
“While finalizing that determination, the president was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refuges from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that,” Psaki said in a statement. “With that done, we expect the president to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.”
The White House will likely ask Congress for more than 15,000 asylum slots. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a tweet on Friday America needed to rebuild its refugee resettlement program to use all 15,000 slots under Biden’s presidential determination — working with Congress to increase the admissions.
Countries in the continent of Africa seem to be the administration’s highest priority, allocating 7,000 of those 15,000 slots for immigrants seeking refuge from Africa. Another 1,000 slots are reserved for East Asian refugees, with 3,000 available to those from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The admission of up to 15,000 refugees remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest,” the memorandum states. “Should 15,000 admissions under the revised allocations for FY 2021 be reached prior to the end of the fiscal year and the emergency refugee situation persists, a subsequent Presidential Determination may be issued to increase admissions as appropriate.”
Federal response to migrants crossing the southern U.S. border has been decried as a crisis by Republicans, even though the increase in immigrants seeking U.S. refuge is lower in 2021 than it was during periods of Trump’s presidency. For example, in 2019 there was a 31% increase in immigrants crossing the southern border while the total has dropped to 28% since Biden took office in January.
The administration has allowed teens and children to stay in the U.S. temporarily, although Biden has taken fire from that decision as well. Minority Whip Steve Scalise pointed out during a House Oversight committee hearing Thursday that the administration was failing to adhere to its own federal social distancing guidelines in a facility in Donna, Texas. A group of Republican lawmakers visited the southern border in late March.
“At the Donna processing facility, we encountered thousands of migrants cramped into makeshift shelters in overcrowded rooms that were more than ten times the capacity limits that had been set,” Scalise said.
According to the International Rescue Committee — a nonprofit group focused on humanitarian aid — about 35,000 refugees have passed American security screenings for entry into the U.S. with another 100,000 waiting to be reunited with their U.S. family members.
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement the administration should turn the page on backing away from refugee acceptance.
“This is a time of unprecedented global need and the U.S. is still far from retuning to its historic role of safe haven for the world’s persecuted and most vulnerable,” Miliband said in a statement.