Biden keeps historically low Trump era cap on refugees

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President Joe Biden will not increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the US this year, according to a senior administration official, breaking a prior promise to raise the cap from the historically-low level set by the Trump administration.

The White House has been under increasing pressure from refugee advocates and congressional Democrats to make good on a campaign promise to raise the number to 125,000.

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez sharply criticised the White House over the initial announcement, saying it "has not only stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance, it has prevented the State Dept from admitting vetted refugees now waiting in the system".

The Biden team's review of the US Refugee Admissions Program it inherited from the previous administration revealed "it was even more decimated than we'd thought, requiring a major overhaul in order to build back toward the numbers to which we've committed", the official said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Miller said he would favor "zero" refugee admissions.

Those remarks were reiterated by Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, who said on Twitter: "This is just the beginning".

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. There is a reserve of 1,000 slots.

Refugee rights groups criticized the decision.

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"By failing to issue a revised Determination, the White House has not only stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance into the United States, but also it has prevented the Department of State from admitting vetted refugees now waiting in the system who do not fit into the unprecedentedly narrow refugee categories designated by the Trump administration", Menendez said. "The challenge of ramping up admissions to President Biden's pledge of 125,000 is daunting, but it is an occasion we can rise to".

The Biden order left some Democrats aghast.

"But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory".

"The United States has a proud, bipartisan tradition of providing refugees protection through resettlement".

Many were surprised Biden did not replace the cap by former President Donald Trump, having submitted a plan to Congress two months ago to quadruple that number.

Since the fiscal year began last October 1, just over 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. But the classification also disqualified most other Muslim and African refugees. "In this time of great global need, the United States must demonstrate its robust commitment as a nation by resettling the world's most vulnerable refugees", Chairman Menendez said, adding that refugees have enriched American communities through cultural, economic, and scientific contributions. "It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that's precisely what we're going to do". But should the cap be 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.

"I think right now we have, well, it's a very few thousand, and we have to increase that number".

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday the US has to "recognize [its] moral responsibility" in taking in refugees.

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