US President Joe Biden has promised to raise a cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States this fiscal year, after facing widespread criticism from rights groups and members of his own Democratic Party for initially planning to delay the move.
In brief comments to reporters on Saturday, the US president provided few details, however, about his plan to raise the refugee resettlement limit from a historic low of 15,000 set by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“We are going to increase the number,” Biden said, as reported by the Reuters news agency.
“Problem was the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up at the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once, so now we are going to raise the number.”
After facing rebuke for planning to keep the limit of 15,000 in place, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that the Biden administration plans to announce its new refugee admissions cap by May 15.
Biden had earlier promised to raise the cap to 62,500 this fiscal year, which ends on September 30, but Psaki said the goal now seems unlikely due to damage done to the resettlement system under Trump.
The US refugee resettlement programme and asylum at the country’s southern border are two different issues, handled by different sections of the US government.
Refugee advocates had urged Biden, who has faced criticism from Republicans for the situation at the US-Mexico border, to hold true to his promise to increase the refugee cap.
They pointed to tens of thousands of refugees who have already been cleared to travel to the US but who have been left to wait in camps, often at great risk.
But several resettlement agencies raised concerns this week amid an apparent delay in Biden signing a presidential declaration that would have allowed them to begin their work of bringing refugees to the US.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a report this month that without raising the cap, Biden was on track to admit the fewest refugees this year of any US president in history.
Only 2,050 have been admitted into the country so far, the group said, while more than 700 refugees who had been approved to travel to the US had their flights cancelled due to the delay in increasing the admissions cap.
Biden has said he plans to allow as many as 125,000 refugees to come to the US in 2022, his administration’s first full fiscal year.
Refugee advocates have welcomed the administration’s promises, saying they mark an important shift from the hardline policies of Trump, who severely restricted the US refugee resettlement programme.
But they were outraged by Friday’s announcement that the Trump-era cap would remain in place for 2021, saying “the harm caused by the delay cannot be overstated”.