May 5, 2021
President Joe Biden on Monday, May 3, offered a chance at the American dream to more than four times as many immigrants as he had offered to admit previously—exceeding former President Donald Trump’s limit of 15,000 refugees to allow as many as 62,500 refugees to enter the United States during the next six months, The New York Times reported.
The action comes about two weeks after Biden announced that he was leaving Trump’s limit of 15,000 refugees in place—which drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and refugee advocates, who accused the president of reneging on a campaign promise to welcome those in need.
According to the Times report, Biden quickly backtracked, promising only hours later that he intended to increase refugee admissions. With Monday’s announcement, the president formally bowed to the pressure.
“This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House.
His sharp reversal underscored the difficulty he has had on issues involving immigration since taking office. The president has struggled to unwind what he calls Trump’s “racist” immigration policies while also managing a surge of migrant children at the southwestern border, according to the Times. His initial hesitation to allow tens of thousands of additional refugees into the country was a recognition that he was already being criticized for failing to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Central America.
Over the past four years, efforts by Trump to limit the entry of refugees were among the most potent symbols of the United States’ decision to turn away from its decades-long role as the leading destination for displaced people around the globe.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to restore the country’s reputation for welcoming those seeking safety, saying he would allow as many as 125,000 refugees to enter in his first full year in office. He took a step toward that goal in February, promising to allow as many as 62,500 refugees into the United States for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.
So an announcement on April 16 that he was keeping the Trump-era limits in place for the time being was all the more baffling for those expecting a significant increase.
White House officials have insisted that ,Biden’s intentions in mid-April were misunderstood. The president says he always intended to raise the refugee cap, “should the pre-existing level be reached and the emergency refugee situation persist.” The Biden administration has resettled roughly 2,360 refugees out of the initial mandate of 15,000, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement agency.
Administration officials also argued that increasing refugee admissions could overwhelm the Department of Health and Human Services, which also is responding to thousands of young asylum seekers crossing the border.
That logic, which was also adopted by the Trump Administration to sharply cut refugee numbers, drew criticism from refugee advocates, who accused Biden of conflating two different immigration systems.
While the Department of Health and Human Services does provide shelter to minors who cross the border, it plays a smaller role in processing refugees compared with the Departments of State and Homeland Security. The Department of Health and Human Services does eventually provide financial assistance to refugees after they arrive in the United States.
In his statement on Monday, Biden appeared to acknowledge that he had fumbled his handling of the issue by sending the wrong signal to the world, noting, “The United States Refugee Admissions Program embodies America’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world,” he said. “It’s a statement about who we are, and who we want to be.”
Still, Mr. Biden acknowledged that the government was unlikely to reach the limit of 62,500 refugees—blaming budget and staffing cuts during the Trump administration. But he said the decision to raise the limit was necessary “to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world” that the United States would help them.
“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” the president said. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”
Research contact: @nytimes