Omar leads letter calling on Biden to raise refugee cap

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)
Greg Nash

A group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wrote to President Biden on Friday calling for him to formally raise the refugee cap to 62,500 after he has delayed the increase for weeks.

“Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration’s full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration. But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory,” Omar wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill and also led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Omar, who came to the United States as a refugee when she was a child, warned that individuals facing persecution and fleeing violence and poverty must put their lives on hold indefinitely while waiting for Biden to formalize his decision to raise the cap, which was dropped to historic lows during the Trump administration. Some refugees were cleared for resettlement but have been in limbo while awaiting the change from Biden.

“We must keep our promises to people who have fled unthinkably brutal conditions in their home countries and live up to our ambition to provide them a safe haven to re-start their lives,” the lawmakers wrote.

More than 30 other Democrats had signed the letter as of Friday morning.

Biden said in February that he would seek to raise the cap on refugees admitted into the U.S. over time to 125,000, after the number was drastically reduced under the Trump administration. In his final year in office, former President Trump proposed capping the number of refugees at a historic low of 15,000. 

The State Department issued a report to Congress the same month that proposed raising the number of refugee admissions to 62,500 for the current fiscal year.

However, Biden has yet to sign the directive raising the number of refugees that the U.S. admits, and his reluctance has frustrated some Democrats and advocates. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday nudged Biden to increase the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. as she defended the Biden administration’s response to the surge of migrants at the southern border with Mexico. 

“We have a moral responsibility in the world — as every other country does, too — to receive refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution or harm [if they] return to their own country,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. 

The White House has insisted that Biden remains committed to the issue but has given no explanation as to why there has been a hold up on signing a directive increasing the cap on refugees. 

“The president remains committed to raising the refugee cap. And obviously, his commitment to ensuring that we are treating refugees, immigrants, people who come into our country with humanity is evident in most of his — in his policies, but I don’t have any more specifics for you,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday when asked about the holdup. 

CNN reported that Biden has resisted raising the refugee cap over political optics, citing anonymous sources. 

The administration has been dealing with a surge in migrants at the southern border, with thousands of young migrants in particular filling up government housing facilities while officials find them sponsors or family members in the United States.

Tags Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Immigration Jan Schakowsky Jen Psaki Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal refugees

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