Biden Ramps Up US Refugee Admissions To 125,000 Per Year

File photo: U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on during an event on economic crisis in the State Dining Room of the White House January 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP


President Joe Biden on Thursday announced his intention to massively increase the cap on annual refugee admissions to the United States, which fell to a historical low under Donald Trump.

In line with a campaign promise, Biden said he would set at 125,000 the cap on admissions as part of the country’s refugee resettlement program, against the current 15,000.

“We offered safe havens for those fleeing violence or persecution” in previous years, when America’s “moral leadership on refugee issues” encouraged other nations to open their doors as well, Biden said.

“So today I’m approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need,” he added.

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

The United States has an extensive history of welcoming refugees and is one of the world’s largest resettlement nations.

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But after nearly 79,000 refugees headed to US shores in 2016, the numbers plunged, with just 6,740 arriving in 2020, according to resettlement data by the United Nations refugee agency.

The executive order “will raise refugee admissions back up to 125,000 persons for the first full fiscal year of the Biden/Harris administration,” which begins October 1, the president said.


US President Joe Biden delivers his inauguration speech on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.(Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)


Biden’s announcement earned swift praise from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who said it would send a compelling message to other countries to follow suit.

“The action today by President Biden will save lives. It’s that simple,” Grandi said in a statement, adding that the expansion shows that “strength is rooted in compassion.”

He added that despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 2.2 million people dead worldwide, “we remind countries of the life-threatening circumstances that refugees face and encourage them to continue to expand their resettlement programs.”

Biden said he would direct the State Department, where on Thursday he delivered his maiden foreign policy speech as president, to consult with Congress about making a “downpayment” for raising the refugee cap as soon as possible.

The UN estimates that there are 25.9 million refugees worldwide, most of whom are hosted in developing countries.


Biden Unveils $1.9 Trillion Economic Plan As US Recovery Buckles

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP
File photo: US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP


President-elect Joe Biden will propose injecting $1.9 trillion into the US economy when he takes office next week, as evidence mounts that the recovery from the sharp downturn caused by Covid-19 is flagging.

With his fellow Democrats narrowly controlling both houses of Congress, Biden has a shot at passing what would be the United States’ third massive pandemic aid package.

Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the proposal released Thursday includes a host of measures aimed at revitalizing the world’s largest economy.

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Biden aims to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, help struggling state and local governments, safely reopen schools, roll out a massive Covid-19 vaccination campaign and raise the size of stimulus checks Congress approved last month.

“The return on these investment in jobs, racial equity will prevent long-term economic damage, and the benefits will far surpass the cost,” Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. “In this moment of crisis… we cannot afford inaction.”

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi embraced Biden’s plan, vowing to put it before lawmakers.

“We will get right to work to turn President-elect Biden’s vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law,” they said in a joint statement.


File photo: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks prior to signing an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images/AFP


But this is just the first step, and the officials said Biden intends to present a second “recovery” plan to lawmakers soon after his inauguration on Wednesday aimed at spurring hiring and fighting climate change.

“We’ll use taxpayers’ dollars to rebuild America. We’ll buy American products, supporting millions of American manufacturing jobs, enhancing our competitive strength in an increasingly competitive world,” Biden said.

– Uncertain path –
The government on Thursday reported a spike in new jobless claim filings in the first week of 2021 to nearly a million, its highest level since August, while official data last week showed the economy shed jobs in December.

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Biden, 78, will take office after a tumultuous transition that saw a violent mob invade the US Capitol, egged on by outgoing President Donald Trump, as lawmakers were meeting to certify the Democrat’s election victory.

His stimulus proposal builds on two massive relief packages Congress approved in 2020, both increasing and extending through September unemployment benefits that have helped tens of millions of people pay their bills after losing their jobs during the pandemic.

It additionally calls for devising a way to maintain those programs if unemployment stays high, and also continues expanded government food assistance as the country struggles with some of its highest hunger levels in modern times.

But controversy could await the plan’s provision of $350 billion in funding to state and local governments, which Republican lawmakers blocked throughout last year.

Also potentially challenging is the president-elect’s move to increase the size of stimulus checks Americans received in the December package to $2,000, which would fulfill a campaign promise.

But with only the slimmest of majorities in Congress — including an evenly split Senate where Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could have a tie-breaking vote — Democrats will have to woo some Republicans if anyone in their party breaks ranks.

One Democratic senator has already expressed hesitation over increasing the payments, but earlier this week Republican Senator Marco Rubio told Biden he would back the additional aid.

The proposal also calls for $160 billion to fight Covid-19, including through a national vaccination campaign, and $170 billion for schools, with the goal of getting most institutions with students in kindergarten through eighth grade open in the first 100 days of his administration.

– Would it work? –
Prior to the release of the specifics, Michael Feroli of JP Morgan predicted Congress could pare Biden’s plan down to the $900 billion range, matching the measure approved last month.

Even the smaller amount would boost GDP growth this year to 5.3 percent and in 2022 to 2.6 percent, he said, a “remarkable expected turnaround” aided also by negligible inflation and the Federal Reserve’s maintenance of low borrowing rates.

Other aspects of Biden’s plan include expanding tax credits aimed at fighting poverty and helping working parents afford childcare, plus extending a moratorium on evictions.

The plan offers flexible credits and grants for the small businesses that are major employers but have struggled to survive as states imposed restrictions to stop the virus.