President Joe Biden signed an order on Friday to keep the USA refugee cap at a historically low 15,000, a senior administration official said, opting against a plan he had been considering to raise it to 62,500.
But the subscription was suspended and White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in the afternoon that Biden would set a new final limit by May 15. So, the fact that the refugee ceiling is 15,000 means that it's not only the lowest number ever set in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, but it effectively shuts out many deserving refugees from being able to be reunited with their loved ones in the United States.
After four years of inhumane immigration policies under Donald Trump, President Biden promised to change course. In the end, however, Biden never signed the presidential decree that would have allowed it.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, an worldwide Jewish humanitarian organization that provides services to refugees and asylum-seekers in 16 countries, said in a statement that Biden had broken his "repeated promises to significantly raise this year's refugee admissions cap".
Another concern has been the record pace of unaccompanied migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, which has drawn in numerous resources that would go to vetting, processing and resettling refugees in the US.
Biden had been expected to raise the refugee cap to 62,500 in fiscal year 2021, but his team concluded that target "seems unlikely" - a shortfall that the administration blamed on the state of the refugee program in the wake of the Trump years.
The order also changes the allocation of who is allowed in, with more slots being provided to arrivals from Africa, the Middle East and Central America, and an end to restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Refugee advocates said they were disappointed by the news, saying it was unjustified given that there are 35,000 refugees who have already been security vetted and cleared for entry to the United States and that there are 100,000 at various stages in the pipeline.
"The International Rescue Committee in a statement called it "a disturbing and unjustified retreat" from Biden's earlier pledge, and said that at the current rate of admissions the administration is on track to resettle the lowest number of refugees of any president in USA history".
But she said Biden was urged by advisers to "take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today's order did that".
Biden returns to the rules that were in place before Trump and welcomes refugees based on their region of the world.
Biden, who took office in January, had signaled two months ago plans to raise the cap to 62,500 during the 2021 fiscal year ending on September 30, but held off on actually doing so.
Left-wing NY congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: "Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, incl the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong".
And Rep. Illhan Omar (D-Minn.) noted progressives recently sent a letter to Biden calling for the administration to act quickly in its promise to increase the cap.
"It is a factor", said Psaki, noting that the Office of Refugee Resettlement "does management and has personnel working on both issues and so we have to ensure that there is capacity and ability to manage both".
Biden's decision not to raise the historically low cap on refugees marks a significant reversal from his campaign pledge to "reassert America's commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees" as the former vice president signaled early on to be the president of open borders.
While those on American soil have the legal right to seek asylum and may potentially appear before an immigration judge, refugees seeking protection overseas are forced to undergo different levels of screening that can often take years.