Biden set to accept more refugees after years of Trump restrictions

President Biden's first 100 days

President Joe Biden signs an executive order on immigration, in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Joe Biden will seek to raise annual refugee admissions to 125,000 in the coming fiscal year, he said on Thursday, a more than eight-fold increase after former President Donald Trump slashed levels to historic lows.

Speaking at the U.S. State Department, Biden also said he would approve an executive order to build up the country’s capacity to accept refugees in the face of “unprecedented global need.”

Biden has pledged to restore the United States’ historic role as a country that welcomes refugees from around the world after four years of cuts to admissions under former President Donald Trump. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are 1.4 million refugees worldwide in urgent need of resettlement.

During his presidency, Trump portrayed refugees as a security threat and a drain on U.S. communities as he took a series of measures to restrict legal immigration.

Biden is confronting a refugee program hobbled by Trump’s policies, which led to the closure of resettlement offices and the reassignment of program staffers; it also disrupted the pipeline of refugees to the United States, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden said the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions – up from 15,000 this year under Trump – would be for the coming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, 2021.

“It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged,” Biden said. “But that’s precisely what we’re going to do.”

Biden is eventually expected to raise refugee admissions in the current fiscal year, but it will be lower than next year’s target, according to two people familiar with the plans.

In an executive order, Biden is expected to call on U.S. agencies to take steps to speed up refugee processing and to highlight the role of climate change in the displacement of people around the world, people familiar with the planning told Reuters.

Biden is also expected to rescind a 2019 Trump order that required U.S. states and localities to consent to receive refugees, they said.

The rollback will be partly symbolic since a Maryland-based federal judge blocked the Trump order nationwide more than a year ago, a decision that was upheld in January by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Former President Barack Obama, whom Biden served under as vice president, set a goal of admitting 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017. But Trump cut that number by more than half after taking office months later and steadily reduced refugee admissions in each year of his presidency that followed.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a Maryland-based refugee resettlement agency, said in a statement that Biden’s decision to raise the refugee ceiling would be “lifesaving for hundreds of thousands fleeing violence and persecution.”

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