Biden HHS secretary argued to keep Trump-era refugee cap: report

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra reportedly pushed officials to keep in place the historically-low refugee caps set during the Trump administration for fear of overwhelming the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees.

Several people close to the HHS chief told Politico that while Becerra supported eventually raising the caps on refugees admitted to the U.S., he believed that such a decision should only be made when his agency had the appropriate resources to deal with the higher number of admissions.

“He cares about raising the caps — but let’s take one challenge at a time,” one person close to Becerra told the news outlet. “Emotionally, he’s there. But he’s always a pragmatist.”

The secretary has also reportedly faced internal criticism from White House staff who privately have worried whether Becerra was too slow in taking control of the situation at HHS and responding to the influx of migrants, particularly children, arriving at the southern border since the beginning of this year, according to Politico.

The Hill has reached out to HHS for comment on Becerra’s stance on refugee admissions. A spokesperson for the agency stressed that HHS was working to reduce the number of unaccompanied minors in HHS custody awaiting permanent housing and was taking other steps to rebuild the government’s capacity to handle individual asylum and immigration cases.

“On the heels of inheriting significant challenges, from severe capacity limitations tied to the pandemic to destructive 2018 policy choices thwarting case management work, we’ve worked around the clock across the administration to make significant strides,” the spokesperson told Politico.

Susan Rice, the White House’s Domestic Policy Council director, added in her own statement to Politico that the agency “has made significant progress in bringing new facilities online and reducing the number of children in [Customs and Border Protection] facilities” since Becerra took office.

Tags Susan Rice Xavier Becerra

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