After shift in entry cap, U.N. ambassador says Biden refugee plan a "first step" to increase admissions

Washington — Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that President Biden's cap on refugee admissions is a "first step," as the expectation is that the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. will increase beyond the limits initially set by the Trump administration. 

"This is a first step, and we're looking at the infrastructure that we have in place to support bringing refugees into the United States," Thomas-Greenfield said in an interview that aired Sunday on "Face the Nation." "That infrastructure was basically destroyed over the past four years. And so this is just a first installment. And I know that the president intends to revisit those numbers over the course of the next few months."

The Biden administration told Congress it planned to raise the refugee cap for the current fiscal year to 62,500 spots from 15,000 spots, quadrupling the historically low benchmark set by former President Donald Trump. But on Friday, after weeks of questions about when a decision about the refugee cap would be made, Mr. Biden announced he would maintain the current ceiling of 15,000 spots for this year, prompting anger among congressional Democrats and refugee advocates. The president did, however, sign an order getting rid of the Trump administration's categories that limited who could be admitted into the country as a refugee.

After the swift backlash, the White House released a statement indicating the president would be issuing another directive by May 15 that sets "a final, increased refugee cap" for the remainder of the year. White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged the initial goal of 62,500 spots "seems unlikely" given the state of the refugee admissions program when Mr. Biden took office and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Thomas-Greenfield said she does not believe the president broke his promise by maintaining the ceiling on refugee admissions at 15,000 and believes the administration will work to meet its benchmark of 62,500 spots.

"I know that that goal is there and everything will be done to meet that goal," she said. "I also know how challenging it is to reach it, but I can say without any doubt that every resource that we have available to us will be put into reaching that goal and possibly even going beyond."

Thomas-Greenfield stressed that Mr. Biden "is committed to refugees," and she expects the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to rise. 

"To bring in refugees require a very extensive infrastructure of agencies that are involved in processing refugees, agencies that are involved in resettling refugees and communities that will accept those refugees," she said. "That infrastructure has to be rebuilt so that we can ensure that we can bring refugees into the United States in an orderly fashion. And I know that that is what is right now under serious consideration and work."