Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, New York Times, May 3, 2021
President Biden on Monday reversed himself and said he would allow as many as 62,500 refugees to enter the United States during the next six months, eliminating the sharp limits that President Donald J. Trump imposed on those seeking refuge from war, violence or natural disasters.
The action comes about two weeks after Mr. Biden announced that he was leaving Mr. Trump’s limit of 15,000 refugees in place, which drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and refugee advocates who accused the president of reneging on a campaign promise to welcome those in need.
Mr. Biden quickly backtracked, promising only hours later that he intended to increase refugee admissions. With Monday’s announcement, the president formally bowed to the pressure.
“This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” Mr. Biden said in a statement issued by the White House.
His sharp reversal underscored the difficulty he has had on issues involving immigration since taking office. Mr. Biden has struggled to unwind what he calls Mr. Trump’s “racist” immigration policies while also managing a surge of migrant children at the southwestern border. His initial hesitation to allow tens of thousands of additional refugees into the country was a recognition that he was already being criticized for failing to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Central America.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden promised to restore the country’s reputation for welcoming those seeking safety, saying he would allow as many as 125,000 refugees to enter in his first full year in office. He took a step toward that goal in February, promising to allow as many as 62,500 refugees into the United States for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
So an announcement on April 16 that he was keeping the Trump-era limits in place for the time being was all the more baffling for those expecting a significant increase.
White House officials have insisted that Mr. Biden’s intentions in mid-April were misunderstood. The president says he always intended to raise the refugee cap “should the pre-existing level be reached and the emergency refugee situation persist.” The Biden administration has resettled roughly 2,360 refugees out of the initial mandate of 15,000, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement agency.
Administration officials also argued that increasing refugee admissions could overwhelm the Department of Health and Human Services’s office that is also responding to thousands of young asylum seekers crossing the border.
Still, Mr. Biden acknowledged that the government was unlikely to reach the limit of 62,500 refugees, blaming budget and staffing cuts during the Trump administration. But he said the decision to raise the limit was necessary “to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world” that the United States would help them.
“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” the president said. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”
It is unclear whether the White House has done anything to address the resource concerns that officials raised last month about the Department of Health and Human Services. The White House declined to comment on the issue on Monday.
In his order on Monday, Mr. Biden seemed to indicate that he had recently learned that the agencies had adequate resources to raise the ceiling “upon additional briefing” about the capacity for refugee resettlement.
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who made clear that Republicans intended to seize on Mr. Biden’s immigration agenda to galvanize the party’s base ahead of the midterm elections next year, criticized Mr. Biden on Twitter.
“Increasing the refugee admissions cap will put American jobs and safety at risk,” Mr. Cotton tweeted, despite multiple studies showing that immigrants work jobs that employers historically struggle to fill. “The Biden administration should be focused on getting Americans back to work.”