President Joe Biden is delaying plans for a big expansion in the number of refugees allowed into the United States every year and will instead maintain the historically low ceiling of 15,000 people, a senior administration official said Friday.
The Biden administration had recently stated it wanted to allow in some 60,000 refugees annually.
Instead, it will keep the strict limit set by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump due so that it can "rebuild" the program and deal with pandemic-related complications, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The official did not give a date for when the doors will open wider to refugees, but indicated it would not be any time soon.
The admissions system left by the Trump administration was "even more decimated than we'd thought, requiring a major overhaul in order to build back toward the numbers to which we've committed," the official said.
"That build back is and has been happening and will enable us to support much increased admissions numbers in future years."
The official said that the 15,000 slots would be opened to more regions than allowed under Trump and said "we are prepared to consult with Congress should we need to increase the number of admissions."
But the policy marks a strong reversal from the Biden administration's vow to let in 62,500 refugees.
Senate Foreign Relations Chair Menendez sharply criticized the White House, saying it "has not only stymied the number of refugees permitted entrance, it has prevented the State Dept from admitting vetted refugees currently waiting in the system."
In a letter to Biden, Menendez called 15,000 "appallingly low."
"As we face the largest global refugee crisis in history, with 29.6 million refugees worldwide, resettlement serves as a critical tool in providing protection to those fleeing persecution," he wrote.