The White House has announced Joe Biden plans to lift his predecessor Donald Trump’s historically low cap on refugees by next month, after the US leader was criticised for initially moving only to expand the eligibility criteria for resettlements.
Mr Biden earlier on Friday moved to accelerate refugee admissions but said the admission of up to 15,000 refugees set by Mr Trump this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest”.
But if the cap is reached before the end of the current budget year and the emergency refugee situation persists, then a presidential determination may be issued to raise the ceiling.
The move triggered a backlash from Democratic lawmakers and resettlement agencies.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later that Mr Biden had consulted with his advisers to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1, the end of the fiscal year.
“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited,” Ms Psaki said it was “unlikely” Mr Biden will be able to boost that number to 62,500, as he had proposed in his plan to Congress two months ago.
But the president, she said, was urged by advisers to “take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that.”
The new allocations provide more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America and lift Mr Trump’s restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Critics from both sides of the political spectrum had accused Mr Biden of bowing to political pressure that has been mounting over the record pace of unaccompanied migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.