WASHINGTON — The White House introduced on Friday that President Biden would restrict the variety of refugees allowed into the United States this yr to the traditionally low degree set by the Trump administration, reversing an earlier promise to welcome more than 60,000 folks fleeing conflict and persecution.

But the transfer to cap the quantity at 15,000 prompted such an instantaneous backlash from Democrats and human rights activists that the White House later retreated and promised to announce a closing, elevated quantity by May 15.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, didn’t specify what number of refugees could be allowed into the nation, however she did say that Mr. Biden’s preliminary aim of welcoming 62,500 appeared “unlikely.”

The wavering confirmed the Biden administration’s wrestle to seek out its footing because it tries to reverse President Donald J. Trump’s harsh immigration insurance policies amid a record surge of children and teenagers crossing the southwestern border.

“This Biden administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable,” stated Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time, there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000. Say it ain’t so, President Joe.”

Unauthorized migrants crossing the border are processed in a different way from refugees, who’re absolutely vetted and accredited for resettlement earlier than arriving. But Mr. Biden was involved that lifting the Trump-era cap on refugees would overwhelm the already-strapped system, in keeping with two senior administration officers who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate determination making.

Still, the Biden administration had been promising for months to lift the cap. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken notified Congress on Feb. 12 that the administration deliberate to permit as much as 62,500 refugees to enter the United States within the fiscal yr ending Sept. 30, citing “grave humanitarian concerns” all over the world.

But for 2 months, Mr. Biden didn’t signal a presidential dedication that may have allowed refugees to board flights to America.

Maintaining the Trump-era admissions degree of 15,000 leaves 1000’s of refugees stranded in camps in locations like Kenya, Tanzania and Jordan. Roughly 33,000 refugees have already been vetted and are ready to journey to the United States.

Jenny Yang, the vp for advocacy and coverage at World Relief, a resettlement company affiliated with evangelical Christians, stated “the walk back” from Mr. Biden to lift the cap “doesn’t change the reality” that, for now, the traditionally low cap stays in place.

“The president broke his promise once,” Ms. Yang stated, “and at this point, he needs to back up his statements with concrete actions that will actually start to rebuild the refugee program again.”

The directive on Friday did embody some adjustments to the Trump-era program, which gave precedence to Iraqis who had labored for the United States navy and to folks, primarily Christians, who’re going through spiritual persecution. It additionally disqualified most other Muslim and African refugees.

Mr. Biden is altering that by permitting in refugees based mostly on the area they’re fleeing. The carved-out slots embody room for 7,000 Africans; 1,000 East Asians; 1,500 Europeans and Central Asians; and three,000 Latin Americans and Caribbeans. It additionally contains 1,500 openings for these from the Near East and South Asia, and one other 1,000 that aren’t linked to a selected area.

Ms. Psaki stated the administration couldn’t increase the cap as rapidly because it wished due to the “decimated refugee admissions program we inherited.” Administration officers have described a frightening process to resurrect that program.

Refugee officers were reassigned from posts abroad that have been shuttered, and their journey has been restricted throughout the pandemic. And resettlement offices in the United States were forced to close due to monetary constraints from the cuts to refugee admissions.

“America needs to rebuild our refugee resettlement program,” stated Jake Sullivan, the nationwide safety adviser, who stated the administration would fill all 15,000 slots “and work with Congress on increasing admissions and building back numbers to which we’ve committed.”

But the adjustments to this system, and any potential rise in admissions subsequent month, could be too late for some refugees who had ready to journey to the United States this month after the administration made its preliminary dedication.

Asende Ecasa, 33, packed her belongings and left the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania final month anticipating to reach within the United States on March 4. After Mr. Biden delayed the admissions designation, Ms. Ecasa’s flight was canceled. The medical screening she received to make sure her journey has expired.

Her cousin Alex Majaliwa, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., now has no thought when Ms. Ecasa will probably be allowed into the nation.

“If possible, the president can really hear our suffering because we want to come to the nation to find our life, to improve our lives,” Mr. Majaliwa stated. It took him years to be accredited for resettlement in America.

But Biden administration officers, attempting to clarify the delay in elevating admissions, stated the 1000’s of unaccompanied minors who’ve crossed the border in current weeks performed a task within the president’s determination to depart the cap in place as a result of the surge pressured officers to dedicate assets to discovering shelter area all through the United States.

That logic was additionally utilized by the Trump administration to sharply minimize refugee numbers, though it isn’t fairly so easy.

The argument additionally appeared to undercut feedback made by Ms. Psaki earlier this month. Asked at a information briefing if the delay within the designation had something to do with assets going towards the border, she stated: “It’s not related to that. No.”

While the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement does play a task in responding to minors on the border and refugees abroad, the 2 immigrant populations are processed by separate lanes.

“These are two completely distinct pathways and programs,” stated Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the chief govt of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “America has always been able to walk and chew gum.”

Refugees obtain government-funded help for housing, well being care and job placement on arrival in communities across the United States. For minors who cross the border unaccompanied, the federal government individually funds non permanent housing in shelters, the place they need to stay till their guardians have been screened.

The administration this month notified Congress of plans to maneuver about $1.three billion from different applications within the Department of Health and Human Services towards efforts for unaccompanied kids, in keeping with an individual conversant in the discover, who disclosed it on the situation of anonymity.

Minors who enter the United States are entitled to request asylum and should be positioned in a shelter managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, whereas refugees aren’t allowed to enter the nation till they’ve handed a number of ranges of vetting by the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

Members of Congress and immigration advocates criticized Mr. Biden’s selections on Friday.

“President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity,” stated Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington. “We cannot turn our back on refugees around the world.”

Nazanin Ash, the vp of coverage and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee, stated suspending a rise within the cap had real-life penalties.

“This is introducing harmful delays and confusion for refugees who remain in vulnerable situations and want to reunify with their families,” Ms. Ash stated.

Christelle Igihozo, a school pupil in Boise, Idaho, arrived within the United States in 2018, having fled the Republic of Congo together with her mom and 4 siblings when she was a baby.

Working as a resettlement assistant on the International Rescue Committee’s department in Boise, she stated on Friday that she dreaded telling households nonetheless awaiting family members that it might take longer for them to reach.

“This is really frustrating and heartbreaking,” Ms. Igihozo stated. “Biden had promised the numbers would increase.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported from Washington, and Miriam Jordan from Los Angeles. Emily Cochrane contributed reporting from Washington.

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