By Steve Holland and Mica Rosenberg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Friday signed an order limiting admissions of American refugees this year to the historically low ceiling of 15,000 set under his predecessor Donald Trump, putting aside a plan to raise it to 62,500 and angering advocates for refugees and some Democrats. legislators.
But as criticism mounted, the White House issued a statement saying Biden would set a “final and increased refugee cap” for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.
Biden’s order to limit admissions to 15,000 was a blow to advocacy groups who wanted the Democratic President to act quickly to reverse the refugee policies of Republican Trump, who had established the figure as a way to limit the ‘immigration.
The refugee admission program is separate from the asylum system for migrants. Refugees must be screened while still overseas and allowed to enter the United States, unlike migrants who arrive at a U.S. border and then seek asylum.
Biden, who took office in January, announced two months ago his intention to raise the cap in fiscal 2021 ending September 30, but delayed doing so.
The president’s cautious approach appears to have been linked to concerns about the optics of admitting more refugees at a time when the number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border in recent months is on the rise, and not wanting to appear. “too open” or “soft,” another US official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The criticism was swift. “In the face of the greatest refugee crisis of our time, there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Say it is not, President Joe,” said US Senator Dick Durbin, the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate. Supporters say the two groups of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, are distinct and that resettlement has long been overlooked under Trump.
Hours later, as complaints flooded in, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the initial announcement had been “the subject of some confusion” and that a cap Refugee final for the year would be set by May 15.
Psaki said that “Biden’s initial target of 62,500 seems unlikely” by the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, “given the decimated refugee admission program we have inherited.”
Republicans blamed Biden for the border situation, criticizing his moves to reverse other sweeping Trump-era immigration policies.
Biden pledged in February to increase the number of refugees admitted in the next fiscal year to 125,000.
As part of the presidential decision signed by Biden, the United States will offer refugee status to more of the world than was allowed by Trump by changing the allocation of refugee slots, the senior official said. administration.
Under Biden’s new plan, the 15,000 slots would be split this way: 7,000 for Africa, 1,000 for East Asia, 1,500 for Europe and Central Asia, 3,000 for America. Latin America and the Caribbean, 1,500 for the Near East and South Asia, and 1,000 for an unallocated reserve.
“ VERY UNACCEPTABLE ”
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter that the cap was “completely and utterly unacceptable”.
“Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
US Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal called Biden’s decision not to raise Trump’s “harmful, xenophobic and racist refugee ceiling” unacceptable.
Stephen Miller, an immigration extremist and White House adviser under Trump, said on Twitter that Biden was likely concerned that border issues could result in losses for Democrats in the 2022 midterm election. Miller said that it would favor admissions of “zero” refugees.
Refugee advocates have called the move unwarranted given that there are around 35,000 refugees who have already been screened for safety and allowed to enter the United States, with a total of around 100,000 at various stages of the process. process.
Refugee groups have previously expressed frustration that Biden delayed issuing the cap by several months, which left refugees who had to travel stranded. Mark Hetfield, president of the HIAS resettlement agency, said around 700 flights have been canceled due to the blockage.
“You can’t help but guess that they are confusing the refugee issue with what’s going on at the border with the refugee program, which is really a disservice,” Hetfield told Reuters.
A growing number of Central American families and unaccompanied minors, many of them seeking asylum, have been among those held at the border in recent months. The Refugee Program offers people the opportunity to apply overseas to resettle in the United States. Supporters were dismayed at the small number of slots for Central Americans within the announced cap.
Refugee admissions have reached historically low levels under Trump, who has described refugees as a security threat and made limiting the number of allowed immigrants to the United States a hallmark of his presidency.
The refugee advocacy group of the International Rescue Committee called Biden’s action a “disturbing and unwarranted retreat.”
If resettlement continues at the current rate, the group said, Biden “is on track to resettle the smallest number of refugees of any president in US history.”