President Joe Biden on Thursday vowed to dramatically raise the cap on refugees permitted to enter the United States, even above the number during the last year of the Obama administration.
“Today, I’m approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need,” Biden said at the State Department in Washington. “It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged.”
In early 2017, the cap was at 110,000. Former President Donald Trump lowered it to 15,000 for this fiscal year, which started in October 2020, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden said he would raise the cap to 125,000 in the next fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1.
Biden directed the State Department to consult with Congress “about making a down payment on that commitment as soon as possible.”
Democrats control both chambers of Congress, making it likely Biden will get the cap he wants. If successful, he’d be fulfilling a campaign promise.
“Biden embraces the core values that have made us who we are and will prioritize restoring refugee admissions in line with our historic practice under both Democratic and Republican Administrations. He will set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need,” his campaign website states.
The United Nations praised the move on Thursday.
“The action today by President Biden will save lives. It’s that simple,” Filippo Grandi, the body’s high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement. “It also shows that strength is rooted in compassion. It signals that the United States will do its part, as it has historically done, to help the world’s most vulnerable people, including by welcoming them in the United States.”
The agency said last month that only 22,770 refugees in urgent need of resettlement were resettled through it worldwide last year. That was the lowest number in nearly 20 years.
Countries across the world have curbed refugee admissions as they battle the pandemic, concerned that refugees can’t be properly vetted.
The Trump administration said in a letter to Congress announcing its lowering of the refugee cap last year that it “reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
“It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases—now more than 1.1 million individuals—by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection. It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the administration added.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Over the past decade, the United States has resettled 55 percent of refugees, according to a United Nations refugee agency report released last year. Canada took over the top refugee resettlement nation in 2019.
The number of actual refugee admissions to the United States hit its recent peak in 2016 at nearly 85,000, according to State Department data. It has declined each year since then, hitting 11,814 in fiscal year 2020.