Children wait in line for food near El Chaparral plaza in Tijuana, Mexico on March 21. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo
April 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called on President Joe Biden to drastically increase the number of refugees accepted from aboard this year as the administration comes under criticism over its handling of the admissions program.
In a statement Tuesday, the independent bipartisan U.S. federal commission said the current ceiling for the fiscal year that runs until Oct. 1 is at a historic-low 15,000, urging the Biden administration to increase the number.
The commission had recommended in February a ceiling of 95,000.
"The current refugee ceiling fails to reflect that unprecedented numbers of individuals worldwide are forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution, including based on their religion or belief," USCIF Chair Gayle Manchin said.
The USCIF call was made after the White House on Friday published an emergency declaration Biden signed to increase the processing of refugee applicants due to the ongoing "unforeseen emergency refugee situation" while maintaining the 15,000 ceiling set under the previous Trump administration.
The announcement appeared to be a reneging on promises made in February when Biden said he would increase the number to 62,500 for the fiscal year and then double it to 125,000 for the year starting Oct. 1.
Senate majority whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., responded in a statement that the target was "unacceptable."
"Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000," he said.
After the memorandum was published, Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, issued a statement to clarify "some confusion" it had caused, stating Biden's goal of 62,500 "seems unlikely" due to the Trump administration's decimation of the refugee admonitions program and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
"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," she said. "With that done, we expect the president to set a final increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15."
During a press briefing Monday, Psaki said the 62,500 was a "down payment" on the "aspirational, big goal" of 125,000 the next year and Biden will be announcing an increased cap before the middle of next month.
She said the issue is the Office of Refugee Resettlement was "hollowed out" in terms of personnel and funds under the Trump administration and they are examining what is possible for this year.
"The challenge is not the cap; the challenge is the ability to process -- the funding, the staffing and welcome refugees in," she said.
The USCIRF said it hopes the United States will be accepting more refugees as soon as possible.
"To stand by our nation's commitment to religious freedom, the United States should be a safe haven for persecuted religious communities, including those who have fled genocide and crimes against humanity," said Tony Perkins, vice chair of USCIRF.