President Biden said Saturday that he plans to increase the cap on the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States and appeared to blame a “crisis” on the southern border for complicating the issue.
“We’re going to increase the number,” Mr. Biden told reporters after golfing in Delaware. “The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”
Mr. Biden and his administration have persistently avoided using the word “crisis” to describe the influx of migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The “young people” remark could be a reference to the issues with family separations at the border.
Mr. Biden moved to end former President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy many have pointed to as a key catalyst for migrant families getting separated. But the fallout has continued, as there are still thousands of migrant children and teenagers being held in facilities near the border.
The president had moved Friday to free up more slots for refugees from places like Africa, the Middle East and Central America but did not increase the maximum cap of refugees for the current fiscal year beyond the 15,000 set by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden had campaigned on lifting the cap to 125,000 refugees per year and had signaled this year that he could increase the cap to 62,500 for the budget year that ends Sept. 30.
Mr. Biden had said in a memorandum on Friday he could revisit the issue if 15,000 refugees were admitted and there is still an “emergency refugee situation.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement after the initial decision on Friday that the 62,500 goal “seems unlikely” but that Mr. Biden plans to set a “final, increased refugee cap” for the rest of the fiscal year by mid-May.
That fiscal year is already halfway through, and as of March 31, just 2,050 refugees had been admitted.
Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups had swiftly condemned the president’s move to leave the cap at 15,000.
Senate majority Whip Richard J. Durbin called the administration’s refugee target “unacceptable.”
“Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000,” said Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “Say it ain’t so, President Joe.”
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.