WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will not increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. this year, according to a senior administration official, breaking a prior promise to raise the cap from the historically-low level set by the Trump administration.
Biden notified Congress in February that he would increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the country from 15,000 to 62,500 in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, upping it to 125,000 for the following year. But he never signed the presidential determination that would actually raise the cap, effectively keeping the cap at Trump-era levels. Such paperwork is usually signed shortly after a policy announcement.
Biden’s decision to not lift the cap highlights the pressure on his administration to address the surge of migrants, many of them unaccompanied children, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. Republicans have criticized Biden for the situation, painting his administration as weak on border security.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked several times in recent days why after two months Biden still had not signed the presidential determination, but failed to provide reporters with details.
“I can assure anyone who has concerns that the president remains committed to this issue. He is somebody who believes that refugees, that immigrants are the heart and soul of our country, and they have been for decades,” Psaki said Thursday.
“And it certainly is an issue he remains committed to,” she added. “But I don’t have an update on the timeline of the signing.”
According to an analysis by the International Rescue Committee, Biden is on track to accept the fewest refugees this year of any modern president, including Trump. The IRC said that midway through the 2021 fiscal year, only 2,050 refugees had been admitted.
Biden faced swift backlash from Democrats in Congress, who had been publicly calling on him to follow through with his commitment.
“The United States has a proud, bipartisan tradition of providing refugees protection through resettlement,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “Failing to issue a new Determination undermines your declared purpose to reverse your predecessor’s refugee policies.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called Biden’s decision “shameful.”
“As a refugee, I know finding a home is a matter of life or death for children around the world,” she wrote on Twitter.