WASHINGTON — President Biden plans to increase the number of refugees who can enter the United States to 125,000 in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the State Department announced Monday, fulfilling its campaign promise to do so.
Biden’s decision is unlikely to affect two groups of people who were most recently in the news: tens of thousands of people from Kabul fleeing the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and more than 15,000 Haitians in a sprawling makeshift camp under a bridge on the southern border. The people in those groups are not officially classified as refugees.
But the move indicates the president plans to open the country’s doors after four years of the Trump administration trying to prevent refugees from settling here.
In May, Biden raised the limit on refugee admission for the current fiscal year from 15,000 — an all-time low set by former President Donald J. Trump — to 62,500. At the time, Mr. Biden also pledged to keep his promise to raise the cap to 125,000 for the first full fiscal year of his presidency.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Monday that Mr. Biden sent a report to Congress detailing his intention to do just that in an effort to “address the needs that are being addressed.” caused by humanitarian crises around the world”.
“A robust refugee admission program is critical to US foreign policy interests and national security goals, and is a reflection of core US values,” Mr Price said in the statement. By law, presidents must “consult” Congress before making a decision on how many refugees to admit each year.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden mr. Trump for limiting admission to 15,000 refugees, called it un-American and failing to fulfill the country’s long-standing commitment as a refuge for people around the world.
He promised to let in many more displaced persons fleeing violence and disaster. But once in office, Mr. Biden initially refused to immediately raise Mr. Trump’s 15,000 cap, sparking strong criticism from lawyers who said he endorsed his predecessor’s tough stance on refugees.
After strong opposition, the president raised the refugee ceiling for the current fiscal year from 15,000 to 62,500 and renewed his pledge for a maximum of 125,000 people for the next full fiscal year, starting next month.
Refugee advocates applauded Monday’s move. But they noted that the Biden administration will not be able to actually resettle so many refugees in the coming fiscal year without hiring more workers at the government agencies that do the work to process them.
During Mr Trump’s presidency, the government agencies and non-profit organizations that manage refugee resettlement were drastically shrunk due to the low cap the former president placed on the program. As a result, under Mr Biden, only about 7,500 official refugees have been resettled to the United States, although the limit would allow 62,500.
“Understandably, the four years of the Trump administration’s attack on the refugee program coupled with pandemic challenges have crippled federal reconstruction efforts,” said Krish Vignarajah, chair of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, who works with the government to to resettle refugees. “But raising the cap without spending significant resources, staff and policies to streamline the process would be largely symbolic.”
Tens of thousands of Afghans who were flown from Kabul last month have already arrived in the United States, and many are likely to be resettled in communities across the country.
But most have been given the opportunity to temporarily live and work in the United States under a humanitarian program that does not consider them official refugees. Some will eventually apply for asylum to remain in the United States permanently, and the Biden administration is asking Congress to pass a special law to put them all on a special path to citizenship.
Many of the Haitians who have crossed the Rio Grande River in Texas in recent days are also not officially considered refugees. The government has said they have already started to quickly treat them as illegal border crossings and fly them back to Haiti.