White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday afternoon that President Joe Biden will raise the Trump-era refugee cap by May 15, and suggested that earlier reports to the contrary were the product of “confusion” about the determination the president issued hours earlier.
Biden issued a determination on Friday morning to speed the processing of prospective refugees, but declined to raise the Trump administration’s refugee cap of 15,000-per-year, prompting reports that he had abandoned an earlier pledge to raise the cap.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Psaki attributed the delay in raising the cap to lengthy deliberations about the optimal level of refugee resettlement.
“The President’s directive today has been the subject of some confusion,” Psaki said in a statement. “Last week, he sent to Congress his budget for the fiscal year starting in October 2021, which honors his commitment. For the past few weeks, he has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1.”
Psaki went on to say that the administration’s initial goal of settling 62,500 refugees this year, announced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in February, was too ambitious given the policies the administration inherited from its predecessors.
“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” she said.
The announcement came after Biden was criticized by fellow Democrats for refusing to raise the cap as part of the determination he signed earlier in the day.
“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. Keep your promise,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
The Biden administration is concerned that raising the refugee cap would put undue pressure on the Department of Health and Human Services while the agency attempts to house migrant children at the southern border, a senior administration official told the New York Times. However, refugees from overseas are processed via a separate system from migrant children seeking asylum.
“The President remains committed to raising the refugee cap, and I can assure anyone who has concerns that that remains the case,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Thursday.
The Biden administration will propose slight changes to subcategories of refugee slots, which under the Trump administration prioritized Iraqis working for the U.S. military and other foreign nationals facing religious persecution.