KEY POINTS

  • Biden increases refugee cap to 62,500 after earlier backlash
  • He says earlier cap "did not reflect America's values as a nation"
  • The Biden administration has tagged around 12,500 spots as “unallocated”

President Joe Biden on Monday raised the cap on refugees allowed into the U.S. this year to 62,500, much above the 15,000 limit set by the Donald Trump administration. However, the number is still below what Biden promised in February. Under the new allocations, the U.S. would be able to accept 22,000 refugees from Africa and thousands more are expected from East Asia, Europe, Central, Near East and South Asia, Europe and Latin America.

According to a report in Politico, the U.S. would allow about 6,000 refugees from East Asia, 13,000 from the Near East and South Asia, 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia, and 5,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean. The Biden administration has tagged around 12,500 spots as “unallocated,” giving some flexibility in the allocations.

A group of undocumented migrants from Honduras and Guatemala get off a Mexican trafficker's boat on the US side of the border near Roma, Texas, on March 28 2021 A group of undocumented migrants from Honduras and Guatemala get off a Mexican trafficker's boat on the US side of the border near Roma, Texas, on March 28 2021 Photo: AFP / Ed JONES

Biden’s new refugee cap announcement comes as a complete turnaround from what the White House said a few weeks ago. Earlier, the administration said that it would retain the Trump-era refugee limit of 15,000, due to which it received massive backlash from refugee resettlement agencies, immigrant rights advocates and Democrats in Congress.

In a statement, the President said that the earlier historically low refugee cap set by the previous administration "did not reflect America's values as a nation" and the U.S. had a "commitment to protect the most vulnerable."

According to Refugee Processing Center, even with the limit of 15,000 in place so far, only about 2,000 refugees had been let in by the end of March, during the first half of the fiscal year 2021.

"The new admissions cap will also reinforce efforts that are already underway to expand the United States' capacity to admit refugees, so that we can reach the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions that I intend to set for the coming fiscal year," the President added.

But Biden did admit that increasing the refugee cap does not necessarily mean his administration will ultimately be able to admit that number. "The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year," he said, adding that his administration is working “quickly to undo the damage of the last four years."

The White House has struggled with handling the refugee crisis since Biden took office. He had promised voters to restore more traditional U.S. attitudes. But he then took a U-turn after his administration faced difficulties in dealing with a surge of migrants entering the country illegally, or claiming asylum, at the Mexican border.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, however, defended the President’s handling of the matter. He told CNN that Biden “has been committed to the refugee program and to rebuilding it and regaining our status as a world leader in the refugee affairs since day one, and that has been unwavering.”

The new refugee cap announcement was welcomed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, and humanitarian organization Oxfam.