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President Joe Biden increased the current U.S. refugee admissions cap to 62,500, up from the 15,000 set by former President Donald Trump.
The announcement came less than a month after immigrant rights advocates called out Biden for stalling on his promise to increase the limit on refugee admissions. The refugee cap refers to the maximum number of refugees allowed into the country per fiscal year.
Biden said the decision to raise the admissions ceiling came after "additional briefing and a more comprehensive presentation," and it was necessary given the "unforeseen emergency refugee situation"
But Biden said the U.S. will not hit the cap for fiscal year 2021, which ends Sept. 30.
"The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year," he said in a May 3 statement. "We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway."
Trump lowered the cap each year he was in office, and many of the immigration staffers around the world who screen refugees were reassigned to handle asylum cases within the U.S. and other tasks.
Biden said he intends to raise the cap to 125,000 admissions for the next fiscal year.
"The budget that I have submitted to Congress also reflects my commitment to the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions in the first fiscal year of my presidency. That goal will still be hard to hit," Biden said. "We might not make it the first year. But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries."
To apply for admission as a refugee, people must be outside the U.S. and must demonstrate to a U.S. immigration official overseas that they were persecuted or fear persecution in their home country due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Refugees arrive here legally after passing background checks and other screenings. (The immigration rules for refugees are different than for the people who arrive in the U.S. seeking asylum.)
PolitiFact will continue to monitor Biden's pledge to increase refugee admissions in upcoming fiscal years as well as the numbers of refugees who are let in every year of his presidency. For now, given his announcement to raise the 2021 cap from 15,000 to 62,500, we rate this promise In the Works.
WhiteHouse.gov, Statement by President Joe Biden on Refugee Admissions; Memorandum for the Secretary of State on the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021, May 3, 2021
President Joe Biden's administration in February proposed raising the refugee admissions cap for fiscal 2021 from 15,000 (as set by the Trump administration) to 62,500.
But this month, his administration said the admission of 62,500 refugees "seems unlikely."
On April 16, the Biden administration said that "the admission of up to 15,000 refugees remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest." If 15,000 refugees are admitted before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, then "a subsequent presidential determination may be issued to increase admissions, as appropriate."
News reports citing 15,000 as an admissions cap prompted criticism from refugee advocates and Democratic lawmakers who said on April 16 that the number was too low and "unacceptable."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later that day said that a final cap for 2021 would be announced by mid-May.
Psaki on April 19 said the 62,500 was "an aspirational goal" and that the Biden administration has "every intention to increase the cap." But the U.S. refugee program "has also been hollowed out in terms of personnel, staffing and financial and funding needs," she said.
Pending a final refugee admissions cap for 2021, we rate Biden's promise to increase refugee admissions as Stalled.
Rev.com, Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript, April 19, 2021
Phone interview, Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, April 19, 2021
Phone interview, David Bier, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, April 19, 2021
WhiteHouse.gov, Memorandum for the Secretary of State on the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021, April 16, 2021; Statement by Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021, April 16, 2021
Medium, Joe Biden — My Statement on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2020
Amnesty International USA, By Maintaining Lowest Refugee Admissions in United States Resettlement History, President Biden Turns His Back on Refugees Around the World, April 16, 2021
PolitiFact, Donald Trump's immigration promises: failures and achievements, July 27, 2020
PolitiFact, Biden Promise Tracker — Increase refugee admission, last updated Feb. 5, 2021
Acf.hhs.gov, Children Entering the United States Unaccompanied: Section 2, Last Reviewed Date: February 17, 2021; Unaccompanied children program overview; Children Entering the United States Unaccompanied: Introduction
State Department data on refugee admissions Oct. 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021
President Joe Biden signed an executive order to advance his promise to admit more refugees into the country each year.
"My administration shall seek opportunities to enhance access to the refugee program for people who are more vulnerable to persecution, including women, children, and other individuals who are at risk of persecution related to their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation," Biden said in the Feb. 4 executive order.
In a speech, Biden said his executive order would "position us to be able to raise the refugee admissions back up to 125,000 persons for the first full fiscal year of the Biden-Harris administration." Fiscal 2022 starts Oct. 1, 2021.
Former President Donald Trump had capped refugee admissions for fiscal year 2021 at 15,000 — the lowest annual cap since the U.S. refugee admissions program was enacted in 1980.
Biden ordered the secretaries of State and Homeland Security to work with non-governmental groups to identify "particularly vulnerable individuals who have a strong possibility of qualifying for admission to the United States as refugees" and refer them to the program.
Biden's executive order also called on administration officials to submit a report on climate change and its impact on migration, including forced migration, internal displacement and planned relocation.
Biden revoked Trump directives related to the refugee program, and asked for a review of bottlenecks in a special immigrant visa program for Iraqi and Afghan nationals. Biden also asked his administration for a report on fraud detection measures in place for the refugee program.
Biden's order did not raise the cap on the number of refugees admitted this fiscal year, or establish a cap for fiscal year 2022. The purpose of the order is to set the United States on track to accept more refugees than under the Trump administration.
PolitiFact will continue to monitor movement on Biden's promise to increase refugee admissions. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.
State Department, Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021
Trump White House archive, Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security; March 6, 2017; Presidential Executive Order on Resuming the United States Refugee Admissions Program with Enhanced Vetting Capabilities, Oct. 24, 2017; Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement, Sept. 26, 2019