President Joe Biden announced Friday that the number of refugees accepted into the United States will remain at 15,000 for the rest of the fiscal year, maintaining the record-low number set by former President Donald Trump.
The decision was delayed by nearly two months, causing hundreds of refugees who had been approved to resettle in the U.S. to cancel flights.
By the beginning of April, the Biden administration had only resettled 2,050 refugees for the year. The administration said it would adjust the allocations set by Trump ― which prioritized Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military and Christians facing religious persecution ― and would provide more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America. But Trump’s ban on refugees from several Muslim-majority countries will remain.
Under Biden’s new allocation, about 7,000 slots are reserved for refugees from Africa, 1,000 from East Asia, 1,500 from Europe and Central Asia, 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 1,500 from the Near East and South Asia. There is also a reserve of about 1,000 slots to be used as needed.
Biden pledged in February that he would raise the cap to 62,500 refugees for this fiscal year and 125,000 for the next, but he never formally signed the directive — throwing hundreds of refugees into limbo.
Families affected by the delay previously told HuffPost that they spent weeks furnishing their homes and preparing for the arrivals of their loved ones. Thousands of miles away, refugees made their own preparations and sold off many of their belongings and homes in preparation for their flights. Many refugees were worried that their security and health checks needed to board their flights were expiring.
For months, Democratic lawmakers, resettlement agencies and activists have called on Biden to fulfill his promise. Earlier on Friday, several House Democrats wrote a letter to the president, urging him to officially raise the refugee cap that has trapped families in limbo.
The White House had previously said that Biden remained committed to the issue but hasn’t given any further explanation for the delay on signing a directive increasing the cap on refugees. People close to the White House speculated that the president was concerned about political optics as he dealt with the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.
“It took us some time to see and evaluate how ineffective, or how trashed in some ways the refugee processing system had become, and so we had to rebuild some of those muscles and put it back in place,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
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