Biden administration officials on Sunday defended the President after he faced swift and strong criticism from refugee advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers for initially signing an order last week that would keep a Trump-era limit on U.S. refugee admissions in place for the fiscal year. The President has since committed to increasing the nation’s refugee cap, but did not provide a specific amount.
In February, Biden vowed that he would lift the cap on allowing refugees to enter the country to 62,500. Amid backlash for initially preserving a historically-low Trump-era refugee ceiling at 15,000, the White House on Friday set a May 15 deadline to increase the cap on refugees.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement on Friday amid the outcry, saying that the administration would set a “final, increased refugee cap” by next month, but warned that the new limit was not likely to meet the amount that Biden had initially proposed.
“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” Psaki said.
According to CNN, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer reportedly made clear to refugee resettlement advocates during a Friday night call that Biden plans to work quickly to bring refugees who have already been vetted and cleared to the United States. Finer also reportedly reiterated Psaki’s claim that the Biden White House had been left with a refugee admissions program was “even more decimated than we thought.”
On Saturday, Biden told reporters that his administration is “going to increase the number” on the refugee cap, without offering more details.
“The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people,” Biden said on Saturday. “We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”
Following Biden’s wavering on raising the country’s refugee cap, several administration officials on Sunday insisted that Biden had not broken his initial promise of raising the refugee cap to 62,500. They maintained that the hold up can be attributed to the refugee admissions program during the Trump administration:
Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Pressed on Biden’s move to keep the Trump-era refugee cap at the historically low level of 15,000 during an interview on ABC News, Blinken pointed to the inheritance of “a broken system.”
“The refugee system that we found was not in a place, did not have the resources, the means to effectively process as many people as we hoped,” Blinken said.
Blinken said that the order Biden signed ensures that the administration can begin the process of accepting refugees into the country and lift the restraints that the Trump administration had imposed, such as the Trump-era policy prohibiting refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
Blinken then acknowledged that it would be “very hard” to meet the 62,000 refugee cap initially pledged by the President, but that the administration will be revisiting the matter over the coming weeks.
“I think there’ll be an additional directive coming out in the middle of May. And but the good news is we’re now starting and we’re able to start to bring people in who’ve been in the pipeline and who weren’t able to come in,” Blinken said. “That is starting today and we’re going to revisit it in the middle of May.”
Asked whether the administration would accept 125,000 refugees next year — which the President pledged during his first foreign policy speech in February — Blinken said that Biden has been clear “about where he wants to go,” but that the administration needs to focus on “what we’re able to do when we’re able to do it.”
.@MarthaRaddatz presses Sec. of State Antony Blinken on the Biden administration's refugee cap: "125,000 next year — is that your goal?"
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) April 18, 2021
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan
Appearing on CNN, Sullivan could not specify the amount of refugees Biden would eventually allow into the country, but argued that the President is “not breaking that promise” to permit more refugees to enter the country.
“President Biden’s ultimate target is going to reflect very much his commitment to bringing refugees to the United States to the maximum extent possible consistent with our ability to process them,” Sullivan said.
Echoing Blinken, Sullivan pointed to Biden’s removal of restrictions on refugees from certain African and Muslim-majority nations, and maintained that the White House faces challenges as a result of the refugee admissions program that had been dismantled under the Trump administration.
“What will drive our determination are the practical questions of whether we can fix the absolutely shattered system we were left with to process refugees,” Sullivan said.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan: "[Biden] is currently allowing refugees to get on planes today. Once we've laid out that new target, you will see that he is following through on his commitment with respect to refugees." https://t.co/cnHHRu11Qi pic.twitter.com/Lsu52nHRcM
— The Hill (@thehill) April 18, 2021
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
During an interview on CBS, Thomas-Greenfield was asked why Biden broke his promise by signing the cap on refugee admissions at the historically low number of 15,000.
Thomas-Greenfield denied that the President broke his promise and that the order he signed was just a “first step” in addressing the infrastructure from the Trump administration that “basically destroyed” refugee admissions.
Thomas-Greenfield added that the President intends to revisit the numbers on the refugee cap over the course of the next few months, before being pressed on whether the migrant crisis at the border is holding up the acceptance of refugees worldwide.
“I don’t think that’s the case, I worked on refugee resettlement issues in part of my career, and I know that to bring in refugees require a very extensive infrastructure of agencies that are involved in processing refugees, agencies that are involved in resettling refugees and communities that will accept those refugees,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Thomas-Greenfield said that the infrastructure that supports the admission of more refugees must be “rebuilt” in order for the country to accept them “in an orderly fashion.”
Refugees are in limbo after the White House imposed a historically low cap on entries at 15,000 — after initially proposing 62,500. @USAmbUN Linda Thomas-Greenfield says Biden didn't break his promise, but "intends to revisit those numbers over the course of the next few months." pic.twitter.com/FrF77jf2li
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) April 18, 2021