1 of 5 | Hundreds of asylum seekers set up tents by the port of entry at El Chaparral plaza in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 26. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo
April 16 (UPI) -- The Biden administration backtracked Friday after initially saying it planned to maintain the existing cap of 15,000 on refugee admissions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration plans to make an announcement about the new, higher ceiling by May 15.
Earlier Friday, the administration said President Joe Biden planned to sign an emergency determination to keep the 15,000 cap set by former President Donald Trump. The announcement contradicted an earlier pledge by Biden to increase refugee admissions to 62,500 in 2021 and 125,000 in 2022.
Psaki said because figures had dropped down so dramatically under Trump, the Biden administration believed it would be difficult to meet his 62,500 goal by the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 1.
"For the past few weeks, he has been consulting with his advisers to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1. Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely," Psaki said.
"While finalizing that determination, the president was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today's order did that."
The Biden administration faced blowback from Democrats in Congress and refugee advocacy groups earlier Friday when officials initially revealed the plan to stick to a lower figure.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., urged Biden to keep his promise.
"Completely and utterly unacceptable. Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise. Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, incl the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong," she tweeted.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it plans to watch to see if Biden fulfills his earlier pledge.
"While our refugee system was eviscerated by Trump, President Biden has a responsibility to rebuild this system fairly, effectively, and efficiently so that people are not further harmed," ACLU senior legislative and advocacy counsel Manar Waheed said in a statement released prior to the walk back.