WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Friday signed a presidential determination that sets this year’s refugee admissions level at 15,000 refugees, maintaining a historically low level set by his predecessor but altering Trump-era regional allocations.
Biden had promised in February to raise the admissions cap to 62,500 for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“Our review of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program we inherited from the previous administration revealed it was even more decimated than we’d thought, requiring a major overhaul in order to build back toward the numbers to which we’ve committed,” a senior administration official said.
The presidential determination, while maintaining the Trump administration’s overall number, changes the formula for which countries can send refugees. It will restore regional allocations that President Donald Trump had slashed to limit refugee resettlement from some majority Muslim countries.
The U.S. has only admitted 42 refugees from Syria and none from Yemen so far this fiscal year, excluding refugees from nations experiencing some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
“This new Emergency Presidential Determination is needed to offer protection to vulnerable refugees who could not access the Program under the previous one,” the administration official said.
The announcement drew immediate criticism from advocates. While offering praise for the new regional allocations, they slammed the Biden administration for walking back its earlier promise.
“I am outraged,” said Meredith Owens, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, a major resettlement agency. “There’s no moral reason to keep a historic low refugee admissions goal of 15,000 in place for the rest of this year, especially when we know that there are thousands of refugees who have already been approved.”
Advocates also questioned the Biden administration’s insistence that the refugee resettlement infrastructure needs to be overhauled before more refugees can be admitted.
“It’s kind of backwards, because the way that you build back a program is to actually build it back, not to ignore it,” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS, another major resettlement agency.