President Joe Biden has lifted the US annual refugee limit following outrage from his party after he initially decided to stick by Donald Trump’s number of 15,000.
The president is raising the limit to 62,500. However, the US will not actually admit 62,500 refugees this year, he said, claiming that his administration had first to “undo the damage” of Trump’s policies.
On Monday, he said his administration will raise this number next year to 125,000 refugees.
Reports say Biden is concerned about letting in more migrants amid a record influx at the US-Mexico border.
Figures for unaccompanied children in particular have spiked, straining shelters and available resources. Photos from inside a migrant border facility showed minors huddled together in makeshift rooms.
The Biden administration has consistently directed blame for the current problems at the border on the Trump administration.
However, World Relief, a humanitarian organisation, last month said White House claims that the US refugee resettlement programme needed to be rebuilt after the Trump years was “a completely false narrative” and “a purely political calculation”.
Biden’s change of mind on Monday came as a survey from the Pew Research Center found the majority of American adults were critical of the current US government’s handling of the border situation.
Last week a member of the president’s own party, Senator Mark Kelly, from the border state of Arizona, expressed frustration with Biden’s handling of the “crisis” – a word that the White House has so far resisted using.
Trump gradually slashed the refugee cap, bringing the number from 110,000 in president Barack Obama’s last year in office to the record low of 15,000.
This “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees”, Biden said.
A White House official told Reuters news agency that the president chose to raise the ceiling in order to “send a very clear message that refugee processing is a critical part of America’s place in the world”.
Biden lifted restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen and provided more slots to arrivals from Africa, the Middle East, and Central America.
However, his hesitation in raising the cap has already forced hundreds of refugees already cleared for travel to cancel their plans and flights, according to Reuters.
The country’s refugee programme is distinct from the asylum system. Refugee status applies to those who apply for protection while still overseas, while asylum seekers do so at a port of entry or from inside the US.