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Biden backtracks, vows to lift Trump-era refugee cap after outcry from Dems

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 4/16/2021 Chris Sommerfeldt

President Biden committed Friday to scrapping a Trump-era cap on U.S. refugee admissions after his initial plan to keep the controversial restriction in place sparked intense backlash from members of his own party.

Both progressive and moderate Democrats took aim at Biden after he signed an emergency determination extending former President Donald Trump’s October order to only let 15,000 refugees into the U.S. this fiscal year — the lowest cap in American history.

“Completely and utterly unacceptable,” tweeted New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise. Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, incl the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong.”

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a key Biden ally and the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, piled on in a letter slamming the president for “failing” to make good on his promise to “reverse your predecessor’s refugee policies.”

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: President Joe Biden. © Andrew Harnik President Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden. (Andrew Harnik/)

Within hours, the White House announced Biden would backpedal.

“We expect the president to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.


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Psaki did not say what the new cap would be. However, she said it likely won’t be as high as Biden initially hoped.

“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” Psaki said.

a group of people posing for the camera: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) © Luiz C. Ribeiro Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (Luiz C. Ribeiro/)

In a plan submitted to Congress in February, Biden said he intended to raise the refugee admission cap to 62,500 for the 2021 fiscal year after Trump slashed it down to 15,000 as one of his final acts in office.

Since then, Biden’s administration has been scrambling to accommodate thousands of mostly Central American migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border in hopes of claiming asylum, an effort complicated by the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.

Psaki said Friday’s directive was never intended as Biden’s final refugee allocation. Rather, he rushed it out because it also reverses a Trump policy that excluded some refugees outright simply based on their country of origin, according to Psaki.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: In this Jan. 27, 2018 photo, supporters surround a group who perform the Islamic midday prayer outside the White House during a rally on the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration's first partial travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. © Provided by New York Daily News In this Jan. 27, 2018 photo, supporters surround a group who perform the Islamic midday prayer outside the White House during a rally on the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration's first partial travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.

In this Jan. 27, 2018 photo, supporters surround a group who perform the Islamic midday prayer outside the White House during a rally on the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration's first partial travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. (Andrew Harnik/)

Still, Biden’s soon-to-be updated directive stated that Trump’s 15,000 cap “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”

After the mixed messaging, some immigrant advocates said they’ll take the Biden administration’s policy pronouncements with a grain of salt going forward.

“Especially after today — credit when they do, not when they say,” tweeted Omar Jadwat, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

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