President Biden finally described the chaotic situation at the border as a “crisis” over the weekend, the first time he made the startling change about as he attempted to defend his administration’s flip-flop on refugee admissions.
“We’re going to increase the number [of refugees allowed into the country],” Biden told reporters while defending his administration flip-flop on refugee admissions cap in Wilmington, Del. after playing his first of many golf game of his presidency. “The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people.”
“We couldn’t do two things at once,” Biden added. “But now we are going to increase the number.”
The jumble remarks from Biden appears to be admitting that the record numbers of unaccompanied minors at the border that had overwhelmed facilities caused an overburned of the nation’s immigration authorities to handle the influx, thus making it impossible for them to also handle any type of increase in authorized refugees as well.
On Friday, Biden signed an executive order keeping the current cap set by the Trump administration at 15,000-person on refugee admissions for the Fiscal Year 2021 but expand the regions that the U.S. would accept refugees from by reinstating countries banned under the Trump administration, including countries from Africa and the Middle East. The announcement immediately sparked fury and widespread criticism from left-wing Democrats and immigrant activist groups.
The sudden reversal came after progressive Democrats, led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) excoriated the initial decision on social media, who argued the numbers are “shameful.”
Jayapal, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, accused Biden of breaking “his promise to restore our humanity,” while Progressive firebrand Ocasio-Cortez accused the Biden administration in a tweet of breaking their promising by “upholding the xenophobic and racist policies.” Omar shared a letter progressive sent to Biden, calling the move from the president “shameful.”
Former President Donald Trump lowered the refugee cap for Fiscal Year 2020 to 15,000, a cap the Biden had promised both during the campaign and his first days in office to raise. In his first week in office, Biden in a speech at the State Department back in early February announced that his administration will move to dramatically increase the number of admissions of refugees into the U.S.
Biden said he will increase the number of refugees the U.S. brings in each year from 15,000 to 125,000 for Fiscal Year 2022. That number would be higher than that under former President Barack Obama by 15,000. The president also said he would work with Congress to make a “down payment” on that number. In the meantime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed to Congress of lifting the cap to 62,000 for this fiscal year.
However, hours later after signing the presidential determination, the White House caved after facing strong backlash from Democratic lawmakers and reversed course on the admission cap. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a hasty announcement late Friday, just two hours after Biden signed the order that the White House will unveil an undisclosed number cap higher than the 15,000 cap on May 15.
“For the past few weeks, [President Biden] has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and Oct. 1. Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” Psaki said in a statement.
Psaki then noted that with the reforms to the refugee admissions in place, a newly updated cap will be announced by the middle of May.
“While finalizing that determination, the President was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that,” Psaki said walking back the president’s actions. “With that done, we expect the President to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.”
A senior White House official told the New York Times prior to Biden signing the order that the initial decision to keep the Trump-era cap comes as the administration faces concerns over its handling of the surge of migrants at the southern border.
The Biden administration for weeks refused to use the term “crisis” to describe the dramatic influx of migrants crossing the border in record numbers, which saw a record number recorded at 172,000 migrant encounters in March alone, a 15-year record, and had overwhelmed Customs and Border Patrol. Instead, the Biden administration, including Psaki and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas referred to the situation as a “challenge” and blamed it on Trump and his administration for dismantling the asylum system.