Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, on Monday defended the administration’s decision to keep the number of refugees allowed into the country at the level set by the Trump administration, a move last week that prompted immediate criticism by Democrats and an about-face by President Biden.
Ms. Psaki said the Biden administration was still trying to figure out how to process more refugees and plans to raise the cap by May 15.
“The challenge is not the cap,” Ms. Psaki said while fielding questions from reporters on the issue for several minutes. “The challenge is the ability to process.”
The Biden administration for months has promised to raise the refugee ceiling. In his first foreign policy speech, on Feb. 4, Mr. Biden said he would raise the limit from 15,000 to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year. Later that month, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken notified Congress that the administration would allow up to 62,500 refugees into the United States for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The administration said at the time that “grave humanitarian concerns” around the world justified raising the cap earlier than usual.
But on Friday, the White House left the cap at 15,000. Mr. Biden did make some changes, such as scrapping a Trump-era classification system in the refugee program that restricted the number of African and Muslims who could secure refuge to the United States.
Still, the news drew immediate criticism and within hours, the White House promised to announce a final, increased number by May 15.
“The admission of up to 15,000 refugees remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest,” Mr. Biden wrote in an executive memorandum released Friday. Ms. Psaki said on Monday that the order also said that the cap could be increased in the future.
Asked on Monday whether administration officials should have assessed whether or not they would have the capacity to accommodate a large number of refugees before beginning to make announcements about raising the refugee cap, Ms. Psaki bristled, saying “people weren’t understanding what we were conveying to the public. We were conveying what we were trying to project to countries around the world.”