Biden on refugee cap: ‘We couldn’t do two things at once’

President Biden on Saturday explained his initial decision to not increase the limit on refugee admissions to the United States, stating that his administration “couldn’t do two things at once.”

Speaking to reporters in Wilmington, Del., at the end of a golf session Saturday, Biden explained that he couldn’t initially increase the cap due to burdens that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is facing because of an influx of unaccompanied child migrants at the southern border.

“We’re going to increase the number. The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people,” Biden said according to a White House pool report.

“We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number,” he continued.

The comment comes a day after the White House reversed course on a decision to keep the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. at Trump-era levels. The decision was made following blowback from Democrats who wanted to see a higher cap.

Biden signed an order on Friday maintaining the 15,000 cap on refugee admissions for fiscal year 2021, a controversial number set by former President Trump’s administration. It is also far below the cap of 62,500 that Biden wanted to put in place for 2021.

Several Democratic lawmakers including members of the “squad” took to twitter to slam the Biden administration’s decision. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), called on the president to “keep [his] promise” to “welcome immigrants.”

“Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, incl the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong,” she tweeted.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a beneficiary of the refugee program, said on Twitter “it is shameful that @POTUS is reneging on a key promise to welcome refugees.”

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

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later said that a new, higher ceiling would be set on May 15.

Like Biden’s comments Saturday, Psaki said the initial decision was due to changes made by Trump and ORR’s handing of the influx of unaccompanied migrant children at the border.

“For the past few weeks, he has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1,” Psaki said in part. “Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely.

ORR is the office within the Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for housing the minors.

The Wall Street Journal reported that it has already went through $1.3 billion of its budget handling the influx of migrants, which would likely make it hard to raise the refugee cap.

Biden is aiming to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 in his first year in office, and has requested a $4.3 billion budget for ORR for 2022 with that goal in mind.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Department of Health and Human Services Dick Durbin Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Jen Psaki Joe Biden Office of Refugee Resettlement

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