Biden raised the cap on refugees the U.S. can accept this year to 62,500, more than quadrupling the number his predecessor had set.
The president had been under intense pressure from his political left flank to deliver on this promise after missing on some other promises he’d made to immigrant-rights activists during the campaign.
But he admitted the move was symbolic, and his administration won’t actually be able to admit that many people. Still, he said it was worthwhile as a down payment on U.S. prestige and future refugee admissions.
“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he said.
Refugees are those facing persecution by their home countries who apply from outside the U.S. for special protections. They are similar to asylum-seekers, who under U.S. law are those applying from within the U.S.
The law requires the president to set a maximum number of refugees the U.S. will admit each year. There is no limit on how many people can apply for asylum.
Former President Trump had steadily ratcheted the refugee cap down from more than 100,000 set by President Obama for 2017 to just 15,000 for 2021. His team said the U.S. had a backlog of asylum cases it needed to work through, and tens of thousands of new cases filed each year.