Biden adds caveat on new refugees cap

The White House’s confusing path to keeping its commitment to boost refugee numbers slashed under former President Trump was paired with an unexpected caveat: The administration doesn’t expect to meet its own goal.

The warning came alongside President Biden’s announcement on Monday that the U.S. would lift its refugee cap to 62,500 this fiscal year, with the aim of processing 125,000 by the end of next year — a goal that, if fulfilled, would mark a significant turnaround for a program that was cut to a historic low of 15,000 refugees a year under the Trump administration.

The Biden administration’s ambitions, however, are teeing up steep practical challenges and expectation setting from the White House.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” Biden wrote in the announcement, citing the logistical difficulties of processing tens of thousands of refugees by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

“We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway,” he continued.

The messaging cleanup campaign comes after the White House reneged on the 62,500 figure  in mid-April, telling the State Department it would stick with the 15,000 allowed under Trump. Biden at the time tied the issue to the border after weeks of being hammered by Republicans over the surge in migrants.

“The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people and we couldn’t do two things at once. And now we’re going to increase the numbers,” Biden told reporters on April 17.

That infuriated advocates who were elated by Biden’s earlier pledge to dramatically increase the cap — a move they argued would help restore U.S. leadership as a nation capable of absorbing and welcoming refugees.

“This administration pointed to the U.S. border response for its delay in increasing the refugee admission, which it’s immoral to blame one vulnerable population for the administration’s own actions for another vulnerable population,” said Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service.

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Rebecca Beitsch