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'Shameful,' 'unacceptable and unconscionable': Biden faces blowback from Democrats over refugee cap

The White House said in a new statement Friday afternoon that Biden's "directive today has been the subject of some confusion."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., holds a news conference at the Capitol on March 1, 2021.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., holds a news conference at the Capitol on March 1, 2021.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

Democrats on Friday slammed President Joe Biden for keeping in place this year the cap on refugees allowed to enter the United States set by the Trump administration.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said it was ”unacceptable and unconscionable that the Biden administration is not immediately repealing Donald Trump’s harmful, xenophobic, and racist refugee cap that cruelly restricts refugee admissions to a historically low level.”

“After four painful years of fighting Trump’s all-out draconian assault on immigrants, President Biden promised to restore America as a beacon of hope and committed to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers. By failing to sign an Emergency Presidential Determination to lift Trump’s historically low refugee cap, President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity,” Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said. “We cannot turn our back on refugees around the world, including hundreds of refugees who have already been cleared for resettlement, have sold their belongings, and are ready to board flights.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the move "unacceptable."

"These refugees can wait years for their chance and go through extensive vetting. Thirty-five thousand are ready. Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Say it ain’t so, President Joe," Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also blasted Biden over the move.

“By failing to issue a revised Determination, the White House has not only stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance into the United States, but also it has prevented the Department of State from admitting vetted refugees currently waiting in the system who do not fit into the unprecedentedly narrow refugee categories designated by the Trump administration,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who fled Somalia when she was a child and spent years in a refugee camp in Kenya before arriving in the U.S., tweeted that, “As a refugee, I know finding a home is a matter of life or death for children around the world.”

“It is shameful that @POTUS is reneging on a key promise to welcome refugees,” she said.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., tweeted he was “deeply disappointed by today's decision to maintain Trump's lowest refugee admissions target," while Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who chairs the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee, tweeted there was "no justification for this historically low refugee target."

"It undoes what the Admin agreed to in their consultation with me in February," she added.

Former Texas Democratic congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro said, “this is a bad decision.”

“Trump gutted our refugee program, a cornerstone of our global leadership and values. His polices can’t be the default we carry on—especially for the sake of “optics,” he said in a tweet.

Earlier Friday, NBC News reported that Biden will not increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. this year, according to a senior administration official, breaking a prior promise to raise the cap from the historically-low level set by the Trump administration.

Biden notified Congress in February that he would increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the country from 15,000 to 62,500 in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, upping it to 125,000 for the following year. But he never signed the presidential determination that would actually raise the cap, effectively keeping the cap at Trump-era levels. Such paperwork is usually signed shortly after a policy announcement.

Biden leaving the cap highlights the pressure on his administration to address the surge of migrants, many of them unaccompanied children, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. Republicans have criticized Biden for the situation, painting his administration as weak on border security.

Later Friday afternoon, in an apparent response to the outpouring of criticism, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Biden's "directive today has been the subject of some confusion," and said that "we expect the president to set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15."

Meanwhile, America’s Voice, a progressive immigration reform proponent, said in a statement earlier that, “This is bad policy and bad politics.”

“As a policy matter, there is no valid policy reason to maintain the shockingly low refugee cap. As a political matter, President Biden will alienate a lot of his supporters by failing to turn the page on President Trump’s racism, xenophobia and scapegoating of immigrants and refugees,” the group said.