US President Joe Biden said on Monday that he has revived a plan to increase refugee intake this year to 62,500 after taking a wave of criticism from supporters that they originally kept the refugee cap at a historically low level.
A Democrat, Biden, formally turned around just two weeks after his government announced it would keep the 15,000-level ceiling as his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, an immigration hawk.
In a statement, Biden said his action “erases the historically low number set by the previous administration at 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
“It is important to take this action today to remove all remaining doubts from refugees around the world who have suffered so much and are eagerly awaiting the start of their new lives,” he said.
Shortly after taking office in January, Biden promised to increase the program but then surprised allies when he chose to stick to the lower lid of concerns about poor optics, given the growing number of migrants crossing the US southern border with Mexico, US officials have said.
Biden’s flip-flopping angered refugee advocates and some Democratic lawmakers.
Trump steadily reduced the size of the refugee program during his tenure, and Biden officials say the cuts have quickly made it difficult to raise admissions.
But the refugee program is different from the asylum system for immigrants. Refugees come from all over the world, many escape conflicts. They undergo extensive checks while still abroad to be cleared for entry into the United States, unlike migrants who arrive at a US border and then apply for asylum.
Biden said it was doubtful whether the United States would be able to welcome 62,500 refugees by the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, or reach a target of 125,000 admissions next year.
“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working hard to undo the damage over the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway,” he said.
A White House official said Biden now wanted to raise the ceiling regardless of capacity constraints to “send a very clear message that refugee management is a critical part of the US place in the world”, acknowledging the initial lower message “did not send the right message. ”
Delays in Biden’s decision-making on the issue led to hundreds of canceled flights for refugees who have already been removed to travel to the United States, often after several years of waiting, say refugee groups.