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Biden is raising the 2021 refugee cap to 62,500, but says ‘the sad truth’ is he will likely not achieve it

Summary List PlacementPresident Joe Biden is formally pledging to accept as many as 62,500 refugees this fiscal year, even as he cautioned Monday that it will not be possible to meet that goal given the state of the resettlement program he inherited. "This erases the historically low number set by...

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Summary List Placement

President Joe Biden is formally pledging to accept as many as 62,500 refugees this fiscal year, even as he cautioned Monday that it will not be possible to meet that goal given the state of the resettlement program he inherited.

“This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” Biden said in a statement.

Soon after taking office, Biden pledged to reverse years of cuts and accept as many as 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year, a level that has not been reached since 1992.

But in a memorandum submitted to Congress last month, the administration caused an uproar among Democratic lawmakers and religious leaders alike, leaving the door open to keeping its predecessor’s cap for the time being. In the document, the administration said only that it would revisit the issue should 15,000 admissions “be reached prior to the end of the fiscal year” in September.

Raising the cap does not mean 62,500 people will be resettled by then; it is a ceiling, not a floor, and Biden himself said that the “sad truth” is it will likely not be met. Even next year’s goal will be a struggle.

“We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years,” he said. “It will take some time, but that work is already well underway.”

In fiscal year 2020, the US resettled just 11,814 refugees, despite the cap being set at 18,000, according to the US State Department. For context, in 1980 more than 200,000 people fleeing war and repression were resettled.

US officials have cautioned that it will take time to rebuild a program that relies on non-governmental organizations, such as the Catholic Church, to place new arrivals — organizations that saw their capacities wither during the previous four years.

As of March 31, just 2,050 refugees had been resettled in the current fiscal year.

But advocates had urged the Biden administration to raise the refugee cap regardless of its attainability, maintaining that an aggressive goal would create the urgency needed to rebuild capacity while sending a message that refugees were indeed welcome.

“This is an important step towards ensuring that the refugee program is rebuilt in a manner that reflects our country’s values as a beacon of freedom and safety for the persecuted,” Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said in a statement.

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