Pressed on an apparent flip-flop last week on the cap for allowing refugees into the country amid withering criticism from congressional Democrats, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted Monday that the initial executive order left room for the number to be raised.
“We never said we’re not raising the refugee cap in the morning we said actually and the information we put out was that once we reach 15,000 we will raise it,” she said in a heated exchange with a reporter.
“That was not accounted for, and some of how people were digesting the information, and we wanted to be clear and send a message that we are a country that is welcoming refugees.”
Her comments come in the wake of the administration releasing a statement on Friday afternoon that said a new, higher number will be announced in May despite President Biden signing an executive order just two hours earlier that maintained the Trump administration’s 15,000 cap.
The initial order was met with strong backlash from Democratic progressives, who blasted Biden for failing to move forward with his proposal laid out to Congress that would raise the number of refugee admissions to 62,500 by the end of September with the number increasing to 125,000 in fiscal year 2022.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, accused Biden of breaking “his promise to restore our humanity.”
And lefty firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to social media to accuse the Biden administration of upholding “xenophobic and racist policies.”
“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. Keep your promise,” she tweeted. “While this administration inherited a broken immigration system that was gutted and sabotaged by the previous president, it is on all of us to fix it — quickly. A critical step to doing so is reversing the attack on the refugee resettlement program,” she said in a statement.
Still, Psaki insisted that there had been no policy shift from the morning, arguing that there was language in the order that states if the 15,000 number was reached before the end of the fiscal year an increase could be made, which was a caveat she said wasn’t taken into account.
Psaki acknowledged though that it’s unlikely the increase will reach 62,500, telling reporters the number “was always aspirational” and meant to be a “down payment” on reaching the goal of 125,500 refugees the following year. She then cast blame on the Trump administration’s policies for the delay in increasing the numbers, adding that they did make substantial changes by lifting the ban on refugees from parts of Africa and the Middle East.
“We knew it was an aspirational big goal when we said it, it was going to be 10 times what the Trump administration had set as their goal, and we remain, we are looking ahead to and we are hopeful about reaching that 125,000 numberas we look to next fiscal year,” she continued.
“But as we came in and assessed and have had time to assess and have the teams have had time to assess where the challenges are, we learned more about how hollowed out the systems were we learn more about the challenges and processing, we learned more about, of course, the impact of what the influx of unaccompanied children would be on these considerations.”