refugees
May 3, 2021

President Biden announced Monday that he will raise the United States' annual refugee admission cap to 62,500, and the goal is to double the number by next year.

The Biden administration previously recommended the 62,500 figure to congressional officials in February, BuzzFeed News notes, but the White House decided in April to stick to the historically low 15,000 goal set by the Trump administration, drawing fierce criticism. Shortly after that announcement, the administration said the final number was still under discussion.

While Biden ultimately settled on the initial plan, he admitted Monday that "the sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year" because it "will take some time" to "undo the damage of the last four years." Tim O'Donnell

April 16, 2021

The Biden administration said Friday afternoon it would set numbers for an increased refugee cap, lifting the cap from a historic low set by the Trump administration.

The announcement came after officials had walked back a pledge to welcome more than 60,000 refugees, rather than the 15,000 maximum set by Biden's predecessor, which drew swift criticism from Democrats and advocates.

Saying the apparent reversal on his pledge had been "the subject of some confusion," the White House said Biden would set a "final, increased refugee cap" by May 15, though it said "given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited," Biden's "initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely."

Many of Biden's allies in Congress and progressives had blasted news of the lowered cap, calling it "unacceptable." The Week Staff

April 16, 2021

The Biden administration faced swift criticism on Friday after it was reported that it would no longer raise the United States' refugee cap from the historic low set by the Trump administration.

Rather than stick to its pledge to welcome more than 60,000 refugees, rather than the 15,000 maximum set by former President Donald Trump, the White House will instead keep the target of refugee admissions at the lower level. Democrats and advocacy groups condemned the news as "cruel" and "unacceptable," and noted that the Biden administration was using the same justification that Trump did.

Reuters reports the decision "appears to have been tied to concerns over the optics of admitting more refugees at a time of rising numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months." An official reportedly told Reuters the administration doesn't want to look too "soft" or "too open." Though officials are reportedly arguing that migrants seeking asylum have overwhelmed the system, "refugees are processed differently in the U.S. immigration system than asylum seekers," writes Reuters.

While the administration took heat from many angles, it found support from former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who was the architect of many of the Trump administration's harshest immigration policies, including the all-time-lowest refugee cap. Miller argued it made sense and said the refugee cap should actually "be reduced to ZERO." Summer Meza

April 12, 2021

President Biden signed an executive order Feb. 4 revoking the historically low cap on refugees and other related restrictions put in place by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, and pledged to raise that limit to 125,000 a year. But he "has yet to do one thing that would make all of those changes official: sign what is known as a presidential determination," The Washington Post reported Sunday. Until he does, Trump's cap of 15,000 refugees in the 2020-21 fiscal year will remain in place.

In a report released Friday, the humanitarian nonprofit International Rescue Committee said Biden is on track to admit the fewest number of refugees of any modern president, including Trump. In its first two and a half months, the Biden administration has admitted 2,050 refugees, the IRC said, and without a change in policy, that will result in just 4,510 refugees this fiscal year.

Biden's effort to sharply raise the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. is supposed to take effect in "the first full fiscal year of the Biden-Harris administration," which begins in October. Biden "also intends to propose a raise in refugee admissions for this fiscal year, after appropriate consultation with Congress," the White House said in its Feb. 4 fact sheet.

Refugee advocacy groups have "deep concern" about Biden's delay in ramping up refugee resettlement, said Nazanin Ash, the IRC's vice president for global policy and advocacy, and "tens of thousands of already cleared refugees" are stuck "in uncertain limbo." Biden's fiscal 2021-22 budget calls for large increases in refugee resettlement funds, but "refugee advocates say those in limbo often cannot afford to wait weeks, let alone months, until the next fiscal year," the Post reports.

At Friday's White House press briefing, a reporter noted that Biden hasn't formally signed the paperwork on refugees and asked if he's "still committed to raising that cap to 62,500 by this fiscal year." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yes, "the president remains committed to raising the cap." Peter Weber

September 26, 2019

President Trump has cut the number of refugees accepted into the United States, with the State Department announcing Thursday only 18,000 will be welcomed over the next 12 months, down from the current limit of 30,000.

In 2016, during former President Barack Obama's last year in office, 110,000 refugees were allowed into the U.S. The State Department said many of the limited number of slots will be set aside for Iraqis who have worked with the U.S. military, persecuted people from Central America, and religious minorities. It will now be harder for people fleeing war to find a safe haven in the United States.

There is a backlog of nearly one million cases in the immigration courts, and the State Department said the "current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large numbers of refugees. Prioritizing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in our country is simply a matter of fairness and common sense." Critics argue that refugees are vetted before they arrive in the United States, and asylum seekers take longer to go through the courts because they are evaluated once inside the U.S. Catherine Garcia

September 19, 2018

The Trump administration announced this week that it is capping the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in fiscal 2019 at 30,000, the lowest number since the current U.S. refugee resettlement system was put in place in 1980. It's also a steep drop from the cap of 45,000 refugees set in 2018 — though with only two weeks left in the fiscal year, the U.S. has let in only 20,918 refugees, Axios notes. And the large majority of those refugees shared a certain religion in common.

In fact, fewer than 2,000 Muslim refugees have been admitted to the U.S. this fiscal year, versus more than 9,000 in fiscal 2017 — even though, as Axios notes, 39 percent of the 25 million refugees in the world come from three predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Most of the Muslims let in this year came from Myanmar, while the number of Somali refugees dropped sharply due to unexplained objections from the White House. Still, while the share of Christian refugees has grown to 71 percent, the total number of Christians allowed in dropped more than 40 percent from the previous year. You can read more at Axios. Peter Weber

September 18, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the Trump administration is capping refugee admissions at 30,000 in 2019.

This is a 33 percent drop from 2018's cap of 45,000, itself a record-low number. Pompeo said the U.S. will "focus on the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country," adding that the "ultimate goal is the best possible care and safety of these people in need, and our approach is designed to achieve this noble objective."

The refugee resettlement program began in 1980, and 30,000 is a far cry from the Obama administration's cap of 110,000 refugees during the 2017 fiscal year. There is no limit on the number of asylum seekers that can enter the country; those applications are handled by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, while the State Department is in charge of refugee admissions. Catherine Garcia

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