WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Tuesday that a maximum of 125,000 people could be admitted into the United States as refugees during the next 12 months, continuing to pursue his campaign pledge to open the country to more displaced people from around the world.
In a message to Congress, Mr. Biden said the cap on the number of refugees would remain the same as in the past year. That follows four years in which President Donald J. Trump significantly reduced the number of refugees who could be admitted.
“I hereby determine that assistance to or on behalf of persons applying for admission to the United States as part of the overseas refugee admissions program will contribute to the foreign policy interests of the United States,” Mr. Biden wrote.
Refugee advocacy groups praised Mr. Biden’s decision, noting the growing number of people who are seeking refuge in the United States and other countries because they have been displaced by natural disasters, political instability, famine, economic disruptions and poverty.
But the advocates urged the Biden administration to speed up the processing of those who apply to enter the United States as refugees. Although 125,000 refugees could have been allowed entry last year, the administration processed only about 20,000.
The Biden Presidency
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“Despite good-faith efforts, the Biden administration fell far short as it grappled with a decimated system inherited from its predecessor,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement.
The refugee system is only one of several ways that displaced people can apply to live in the United States. People crossing the border can apply for asylum if they can prove they would be persecuted at home. And in special circumstances, the United States government can grant “parole” to people from other countries, a legal tool that allows migrants entry but does not give them the right to pursue a green card or citizenship.
That is what Mr. Biden’s administration did in the cases of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. Tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan were paroled into the United States temporarily after the Biden administration withdrew American forces from the country. A similar process was used for tens of thousands of people fleeing Russian forces in Ukraine.
But those people do not count against the renewed 125,000-person cap because they are not formally considered refugees. They will not receive financial benefits reserved for official refugees, and they will not be able to pursue citizenship.
Bringing people from Afghanistan and Ukraine to the United States during the past year strained government resources. Officials in the Biden administration blamed Mr. Trump’s decision to gut many of the programs that deal with refugees and other people seeking to come to the United States.
Ms. Vignarajah said the decision to focus the administration’s efforts on those two countries made it more difficult for potential refugees from other parts of the world.
“As a result of prioritizing parole over rebuilding the refugee program, displaced children and families of many other nationalities continue to languish in yearslong backlogs,” she said. “This must be the year that the administration sees its refugee commitments to fruition.”
Last month, a group of 11 Democratic senators wrote to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, urging them to rebuild the capacity of the refugee program in the United States so that more people can pursue new lives if they are driven from their homes.
“The need for robust refugee resettlement is high,” the senators wrote. “If current conflict trends continue, the 21st century will be defined by an ever-rising population of people forced to flee their homes and by increasingly limited options for them.”
“At this critical moment for refugees around the world,” the senators added, “the U.S.’s moral and legal obligation to our longstanding, bipartisan refugee resettlement program has never been more important.”