US President Joe Biden has raised the maximum number of refugees allowed to enter the United States annually, succumbing to the anger of his party after he initially chose to stick to the number that was set under Trump.
The Democratic president raised the ceiling from 15,000 to 62,500 after protest by progressives and refugee agencies.
The White House had indicated that Biden would revise the figure in May.
Reports last month said Biden was concerned about letting in more people, amid record influxes at the US-Mexico border.
What did Biden say?
Biden said on Monday that the new number 62,500 “erases the record low” set by former President Donald Trump.
Biden also said that his administration plans to raise that number next year to 125,000 refugees.
But he said the United States would not actually achieve 62,500 this year, arguing that his administration must “repair the damage” the previous administration did.
The Biden administration has consistently blamed the Trump administration for the current problems at the border, with White House spokeswoman Jane Saki describing the immigration system Trump succeeded as “disjointed” and “impractical.”
Trump gradually reduced the maximum number of refugees during his tenure, reducing the number from 110,000 refugees in President Barack Obamas last year to a record low of 15,000.
Biden said in his statement on Monday that this “does not reflect Americas values as a country that welcomes and supports refugees.”
Why did he review the number?
Biden said in his April emergency declaration that admitting up to 15,000 refugees was “justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”
Instead, the president lifted restrictions on resettlement from Somalia, Syria, and Yemen and provided more opportunities for people from Africa, the Middle East and Central America.
Biden faced an immediate response from refugee groups and members of his party, with left-wing New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez describing the refugee minimum as “racist and xenophobic.”
The World Relief Organization said last month that the White House’s allegations that the US refugee resettlement program needed to be rebuilt after the Trump years was a “completely false narrative” and a “purely political calculation.”
Biden’s policy volatility has forced hundreds of refugees already permitted to travel to cancel their trips.
A White House official told Reuters on Monday that the president chose to raise the ceiling in order to “send a very clear message that the treatment of refugees is an important part of Americas standing in the world,” adding that the initial cap “did not send the right message.”
Refugee groups, including the International Rescue Committee, have applauded the decision.
“President Biden’s decision is good for America and the refugees,” said its chief executive, David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary (of the Labor Party). “We welcome bold steps to re-protect refugees after four years of extremely destructive politics,” he added.
What does this have to do with the US-Mexico border?
The refugee program in a country differs from the asylum system. Refugee status applies to those who seek protection while abroad, while asylum seekers do so from a port of entry or from within the United States.
But the White House is known to be concerned about the record number of undocumented immigrants arriving at the southern border, with numbers expected to increase as the weather warms.
Figures for unaccompanied children have increased in particular, straining available shelters and resources. Pictures from inside a border facility for migrants showed children gathered in makeshift rooms.
And last week, a member of the President’s party, Senator Mark Kelly of the Arizona border state, expressed his frustration with Biden’s handling of the “crisis” – a label the White House has so far resisted.
On Monday, a Pew Research Center poll found that a majority of American adults are critical of the US government’s handling of the border situation.
About two-thirds of adults in the United States said the Biden administration was doing a very bad or somewhat poor job of dealing with the increasing number of asylum seekers, according to the results.