SAN DIEGO — (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the national cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 fiscal year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even further to meet needs after being well below that target this year.
Refugee advocates have pushed the Biden administration to do more to restore the U.S. refugee admissions program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to an all-time high of 15,000.
After taking office, Biden quadrupled the number of refugee admissions allowed for the remaining months of fiscal year 2021. He then set the target at 125,000 for fiscal year 2022, which ends on March 30. september. But so far, less than 20,000 refugees have been admitted.
This number excludes the approximately 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States through a legal process called humanitarian parole that brought them into the country faster than the traditional refugee program, but only allows stays of up to at two years old.
Refugees have a pathway to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 goal “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest,” Biden said in his presidential ruling. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden has reserved an additional 5,000 places for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 fiscal year, making room to accommodate those fleeing war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots – 40,000 – were reserved for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the US refugee program despite the increase in numbers and the removal of bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and resulted in a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, says the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program, with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people displaced from their homes .
“It must speed up and streamline the processing of overseas refugee applications if this vital program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis,” she said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that “this ambitious goal demonstrates that the United States is committed to rebuilding and strengthening the U.S. refugee admissions program” through various means. He outlined plans for a pilot program slated to begin by the end of the year that will allow ordinary Americans to register to resettle refugees in their communities, just as American citizens have done by stepping up their assistance to Afghans and Ukrainians over the past year.
Traditionally, refugees are placed in communities by nine refugee resettlement agencies.
“Our refugee admissions program embodies the best of American values and a commitment to helping those in need, and it will continue to provide access to resettlement as a durable and life-saving solution,” Blinken said.
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