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What will be the new refugee cap under the Biden administration?

After President Trump lowered the refugee cap to historic levels, the Biden administration proposes increasing it to levels never before seen.

What will be the new refugee cap under the Biden administration?
JOSE LUIS MAGANA AFP

Under the Trump administration, the average number of refugees allowed to enter the United States each year was cut in half compared to the average for the fifteen years before. From 2000-2016, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the average number of refugees entering the US each year was just under 60,000. Based on when the caps are established, Donald Trump was able to determine the number of refugees that would be allowed in three times, and the average dropped over three quarters.

In 2020, one of the main drivers of the decrease was to avoid bringing in cases of covid-19. At the time, the administration stated that the decline was determined based on their “continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” The decision was swiftly criticized by major humanitarian organizations, who called the move xenophobic and an “abdication” of responsibility.

Changes by President Biden

During the campaign, then-candidate Biden proposed increasing the cap to 125,000, but since taking office, his administration has been slow to make good on this promise. On 3 May, President Biden increased the 2020 number to 65,500, but in a statement released by the White House, the administration acknowledged that they would not meet this goal. In describing why the target would not be met, the statement read, “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years.” and went on to detail changes that had been made to the nation's immigration infrastructure in order to help those in need of coming to the United States do so more quickly.

The White House has presented a budget to Congress, and it includes the funds necessary to rebuild the various programs that help bring and settle refugees in the US. The President believes that while the “goal will still be hard to hit” and might not happen next year, he thinks it will be possible within his term.

What motivated the President to increase the cap?

The President may have been motivated to move more quickly on the issue after dozens of members of Congress signed a letter, pleading with him to take action. The letter writing was led by Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and signed by over forty House members. The letter detailed the tragic reality many seeking refuge in the United States have experienced, including “hundreds of refugees who had been cleared for resettlement having their flights canceled at the last minute, in some cases having already left their residences and sold their belonging.”

 Where did most refugees come from?

According to the Department of Homeland Security, from 2010 to 2019, the countries that had the most refugees admitted to the US were,

1. Burma: 123020

2. Iraq:108871

3. Bhutan: 77402

4. Democratic Republic of the Congo: 67576

5. Somalia: 54060

6. Iran: 22433

7. Syria: 21677

8. Cuba: 20011

9. Eritrea: 17748

10. Ukraine: 17310