President Biden is keeping refugee admissions at 15,000 this fiscal year — the level set at the end of the Trump administration — despite earlier proposals to dramatically increase it to over 60,000.
A senior administration official said Friday that Biden will be signing an emergency presidential determination to keep the number at 15,000 while changing the regional allocation of who is brought in — allowing more slots from Africa, the Middle East and Central America, while ending restrictions on Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
Biden had said in February that he would increase the cap to 125,000 for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. He also said he would work with Congress to make a “down payment” on that number. In the meantime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed to Congress lifting the cap to 62,000 for this fiscal year.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday had conceded there had been a delay, and tried to shift blame onto the Trump administration.
“It took us some time to see and evaluate how ineffective, or how trashed in some ways the refugee processing system had become, and so we had to rebuild some of those muscles and put it back in place,” she said.
However, an earlier report said that Biden had become concerned about political optics of raising the cap amid a surge in migrants at the southern border that has overwhelmed officials — although refugees are handled by separate systems to asylum seekers at the border.
A senior administration official says the administration intends to use all 15,000 slots under the new declaration and did not rule out working with Congress to add more to that number. They also said it takes into account global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the new system, the U.S. will take 7,000 refugees from Africa in fiscal year 2021; 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean; 1,000 from East Asia; 1,500 from Europe and Central Asia; and 1,500 from Near East and South Asia — leaving an unallocated reserve of 1,000.
The move marks a rare stall in what has otherwise been a dramatic overhaul in immigration policy by the new administration. It has so far ended the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), narrowed interior enforcement and halted border wall construction.
Critics have said those moves, primarily on illegal immigration and asylum at the southern border, have led to the surge in migrant numbers — something that has left officials overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Biden has also proposed a sweeping immigration bill that would grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.