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After criticism, Biden says will raise US cap on refugee admissions

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Joe Biden finishes a round of golf in Wilmington, Delaware, US. (Reuters photo)

US President Joe Biden says he will raise the cap on the number of refugees admitted to the United States in 2021.

He announced his decision on Saturday a day after he drew swift blowback from Democrats and immigration advocates for agreeing to keep the historically low figure in place.

On Friday, the Democratic president signed an order extending a 15,000 refugee admissions cap issued by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump through the end of September.

In signing the order, Biden shelved a plan his administration announced in February to increase the cap to 62,500.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden's "initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely ... given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited."

The move caught most congressional Democrats by surprise, as many had been privately and publicly pressuring the White House to quickly raise the refugee cap set during the Trump administration.

"Failing to issue a new Determination undermines your declared purpose to reverse your predecessor’s refugee policies and to rebuild the Refugee Admissions Program to a target of 125,000 people in FY22, and threatens US leadership on forced migration," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Another powerful Senate Democrat, Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (Ill.), said the "Biden Administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable."

On Saturday, however, Biden told reporters in Delaware after playing golf that he would go beyond the 15,000 limit.

"We are going to increase the number. Problem was the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up at the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once, so now we are going to raise the number," he said.

The program for admitting refugees is completely different from the asylum system for migrants. Refugees must be vetted while still out of the US and cleared for entry to the country, unlike migrants who arrive at a US border and then request asylum.

Biden's cautious approach appears to be related to concerns over the optics of admitting more refugees at a time of rising numbers of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.

The president also does not want to look "too open" or "soft," another US official with knowledge of the matter previously told Reuters.

Republicans have blamed Biden for the situation at the southern border, faulting his moves to reverse other Trump-era harsh immigration policies.

An increasing number of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America, many seeking asylum in the US, have been among those detained at the border in recent months.

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