NEW YORK - President Joe Biden made clear on Monday that the United States may not actually reach the increased refugee cap of 62,500 this year or the 125,000 refugee admissions he intends to allot for next year. But the White House on Tuesday said what matters is the message those numbers are sending to the world's most vulnerable.
"He wanted to eliminate any lingering doubt from any refugee across the world that the United States wasn't a country that would welcome refugees to apply," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing, explaining why Biden raised the limit from President Trump's historic low of 15,000.
"It helps get the muscles working that have atrophied over the last several years when we were not welcoming in many refugees," Psaki said.
George Tarr, who arrived in Staten Island as a Liberian refugee in 1999, said it's a welcome change.
"That's what this country's actually built on, of being a welcoming country for people who are escaping stuff like violence, war, and hunger," said Tarr, who now serves as a New York delegate to the Refugee Congress, a national nonprofit advocacy organization.
This fiscal year, the U.S. aims to admit up to 22,000 refugees from Africa, 6,000 from East Asia, 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia, 5,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 13,000 from the Near East and South Asia. The remaining 12,500 unallocated spots will be held in reserve.
"This is not just a United States government effort," Psaki said, "there are so many organizations that play incredible roles in the United States and around the world."
Bill Swersey is with HIAS, one of the nine resettlement organizations in the U.S. He said the agency is ready to help new refugees find their footing in New York City.
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"Mentorship, job training, English training skills — we've got these amazing volunteers who will spend time to get to know refugees, show them around," Swersey said.
Tarr now plays that role as a program manager with African Refuge, a social services organization in Staten Island.
"We make sure we inform community members about the type of resources we provide, but also the type of resources that organizations we partner with provide as well," Tarr said.
But first, new refugees have to be let into the United States. And President Biden has said that his administration has already increased the number of approved refugees ready for immediate arrival, while "push[ing] hard to complete the rigorous screening process for those refugees already in the pipeline for admission," he said in a Monday statement.