The Biden administration will keep the target of refugee admissions for this year at the historically low level set by the Trump administration, walking back an earlier pledge to welcome more than 60,000 refugees into the United States.
President Biden in February committed to welcoming those fleeing persecution around the world, and to raising the cap of 15,000 refugees set by the prior administration. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken notified Congress on Feb. 12 that the administration planned to allow up to 62,500 refugees to enter the country in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The reversal on Mr. Biden’s promise to welcome in thousands of families fleeing war and religious persecution signals the president’s hesitant approach to rebuilding an immigration system gutted by his successor. But the delay in officially designating the refugee admissions has already left hundreds of refugees cleared to travel to the United State stranded in camps around the world and infuriated resettlement agencies that accused Mr. Biden of breaking an earlier promise to restore the American reputation as a sanctuary for the oppressed.
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the decision-making, said the administration grew concerned that the surge of border crossings by unaccompanied minors was too much and had already overwhelmed the refugee branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. But migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.
While those who step on American soil are legally entitled to apply for asylum and can eventually appear before an immigration judge in the United States, refugees apply for protection overseas and are forced to clear multiple levels of vetting that can often take years.
The administration will change subcategories for refugee slots created by the Trump administration that gave priority to Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. military and people, primarily Christians, who are facing religious persecution. But the classification also disqualified most other Muslim and African refugees. As a region, Africa has the most displaced people needing resettlement. An administration official said the change would allow the Biden administration to fill the cap of 15,000, although it would also leave thousands of additional refugees cleared to fly to the United States stranded in camps.