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White House Reverses Course, Will Lift Trump Refugee Cap Next Month

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include new comments from the White House.

After backlash following an announcement about refugee policy, the White House released a statement saying that by May 15, President Biden will raise the number of refugees allowed in the country this year. That number, which was set by President Trump, is currently capped at 15,000.

When announcing that Biden had eliminated Trump-era policies that limited the types of refugees allowed to enter the U.S., the administration said that Biden would keep the refugee limit the same as under Trump for the current fiscal year. But the administration received backlash from Democratic lawmakers, activists and experts. Hours later, the White House walked the statement back, saying that Biden would raise the cap next month.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that it “seems unlikely” the country will be able to process the 62,000 plus refugees Biden pledged to let in, considering “the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement.”

During the presidential campaign and a February speech to the State Department, Biden said his administration would let as many as 125,000 refugees into the country during his first complete fiscal year in office, which is set to start in October. But his delay in raising the cap for this year has consequences. Many refugees approved to come to the U.S. have had to cancel their flights.

Dr. Austin Kocher, a research assistant professor at Syracuse University’s Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse criticized the administration’s initial announcement.

“President Biden’s decision to leave Trump-era refugee caps in place means that the United States will, once again, accept the lowest number of refugees since it ratified the refugee convention in 1980,” Kocher said. “This decision could undermine trust in the refugee resettlement process and prompt still more refugees to attempt to come through the asylum system, placing an even heavier burden on the U.S. immigration court system.”

Progressive Democrats were also unhappy with the decision. Reps. Ilhan Omar—who is the first African refugee to join Congress—Pramila Jayapal and Jan Schakowsky wrote a letter to the president urging him to raise the cap. “We must keep our promises to people who have fled unthinkably brutal conditions in their home countries and live up to our ambition to provide them a safe haven to re-start their lives,” they said, adding, “But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory.”

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed her disappointment on Twitter, writing, “Completely and utterly unacceptable. Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise.”

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