After outcry, White House says Biden will lift refugee cap in May

Migrants shortly after travelling over the border into the US

Migrants shortly after travelling over the border into the US

President Joe Biden is delaying plans for a big expansion in the number of refugees allowed into the United States every year and will instead maintain the historically low ceiling of 15,000 people, a senior administration official said Friday.

Biden pledged in February to increase the number of refugees admitted in the next fiscal year to 125,000.

Biden signed an emergency determination Friday that did that, which officials say will speed refugee admission to the U.S.

The Biden White House is now trying to do some cleanup, with a statement Friday afternoon by press secretary Jen Psaki saying, "The president's directive today has been the subject of some confusion".

The Biden administration had recently stated it wanted to allow in some 60,000 refugees annually, ramping up to double the following year.

Chairman Menendez also described the serious repercussions associated with the Biden administration's delay, warning that the lag may result in the United States receiving fewer than 15,000 refugees for FY21, or the admissions level set by the Trump administration.

In a letter to Mr Biden, Mr Menendez called 15,000 "appallingly low".

The Biden administration initially vowed to let in 62,500 refugees, with 125,000 next year.

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The allocations provide more slots for refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central America and lift Trump's restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

"It sends an important message to make it higher and now Biden will still be presiding over and has essentially put his stamp of approval on the lowest refugee admissions cap in history at a time of global crisis", said Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Maryland-based Jewish non-profit that is one of nine agencies that resettles refugees in the U.S.

Since the fiscal year began last October 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. Dozens of other party members wrote to Mr Biden ahead of the decision urging him to raise the cap.

The official said the USA would use all 15,000 slots under the Biden order and that officials were prepared to consult with Congress should there be a need to increase the number of admissions to address unforeseen emergencies.

Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Biden in a letter Friday that his inaction "undermines your declared goal to reverse your predecessor's refugee policies". But migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.

The administration will change subcategories for refugee slots created by the Trump administration that gave priority to Iraqis who had worked for the US military and people, primarily Christians, who are facing religious persecution.

"Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration's full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration", Reps.

Some 35,000 refugees have been cleared to go to the United States, and 100,000 remain in the pipeline and their lives remain in limbo, said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. The refugee program offers a pathway for people to apply overseas to resettle in the United States.

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