The Dallas Morning News

Biden relents on refugee cap

After saying he would hold to Trump’s low limit, he is to announce higher number

- By ZEKE MILLER and AAMER MADHANI

WASHINGTON — Facing blistering criticism from allies and aid groups, the White House reversed course Friday and said President Joe Biden plans to lift his predecesso­r’s historical­ly low cap on refugees by next month, after initially moving only to expand the eligibilit­y criteria for resettleme­nts.

In an emergency determinat­ion signed by Biden earlier in the day, he stated that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees set by former President Donald Trump this year “remains justified by humanitari­an concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.” But if the cap is reached before the end of the current budget year and the emergency refugee situation persists, then a presidenti­al determinat­ion may be issued to raise the ceiling.

That statement set off a deluge of criticism from top allies on Capitol Hill, such as the second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who called that initial limit “unacceptab­le.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later that Biden is expected to increase the refugee cap by May 15, though she didn’t say by how much.

Biden has been consulting with his advisers to determine what number of refugees could realistica­lly be admitted to the United States between now and Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year, Psaki said.

“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited,” she said it’s now “unlikely” Biden will be able to boost that number to 62,500, as he had proposed in his plan to Congress two months ago.

Biden, she said, had been urged by advisers to “take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that.“

Border concerns

The new allocation­s provide more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America and lift Trump’s restrictio­ns on resettleme­nts from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Critics from both sides of the political spectrum had accused the president of bowing to political pressure, which has been mounting over the record pace of unaccompan­ied migrants crossing the U.s.-mexico border. Stephen Miller, a key architect of Trump’s immigratio­n policies, tweeted that keeping Trump’s cap “reflects Team Biden’s awareness that the border flood will cause record midterm losses.”

The White House indicated that the border situation was partly why Biden had not acted before now, even though migrants at the border do not go through the same vetting process as refugees.

“It is a factor,” said Psaki, noting that the Office of Refugee Resettleme­nt “has personnel working on both issues, and so we have to ensure that there is capacity and ability to manage both.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticu­t said he didn’t buy that explanatio­n.

“This cruel policy is no more acceptable now than it was during the Trump administra­tion,” Blumenthal said. “To be clear: the asylum process at the southern border and the refugee process are completely separate immigratio­n systems. Conflating the two constitute­s caving to the politics of fear.”

Many are waiting

Since the fiscal year began last Oct. 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified Congress on Feb. 12 of a plan to raise the ceiling on admissions to 62,500, but no presidenti­al determinat­ion followed. Past presidents have issued such presidenti­al determinat­ions, which set the cap on refugee admissions, shortly after the notificati­on to Congress.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Biden in a letter Friday that his inaction “undermines your declared purpose to reverse your predecesso­r’s refugee policies.”

Refugee resettleme­nt agencies said it was important that admissions go higher even if it’s not possible to meet the target, in order to send a message that America will be a leader again in offering safe haven to the world’s oppressed.

Some 35,000 refugees have been cleared to go to the United States, and 100,000 more remain in the pipeline, their lives in limbo, said David Miliband, president and CEO of the Internatio­nal Rescue Committee.

“This leadership is sorely needed,” he said. The State Department, which coordinate­s flights with resettleme­nt agencies, booked 715 refugees to come to the United States with the anticipati­on that Biden would have acted by March, but those flights were canceled since the refugees were not eligible under Trump’s rules, according to resettleme­nt agencies.

Most of the refugees are from Africa and fleeing armed conflict or political persecutio­n. Trump limited most spots to people fleeing religious persecutio­n, Iraqis who have assisted U.S. forces there, and people from Central America’s Northern Triangle, the distressed countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

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