Refugees are being removed from flights to the US as they await Biden's signature

Hundreds of refugees who had been approved -- and booked -- to come to the United States are being taken off flights. President Joe Biden pledged to increase the number of refugees who could be admitted to the US after years of historic lows under his predecessor. By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

(CNN) -- Hundreds of refugees who had been approved -- and booked -- to come to the United States are being taken off flights, according to resettlement agencies who work directly with refugees.

President Joe Biden pledged to increase the number of refugees who could be admitted to the US after years of historic lows under his predecessor. But three weeks after announcing that this year's refugee cap would be modified, Biden has yet to sign the determination making it official, leaving refugees abroad in limbo.

Last week, 60 refugees were unbooked from their flights and this week, more than 200 refugees have had their trips postponed, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

In one case, a Congolese family of five set to depart Uganda, where they've been staying since fleeing war and violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo, had their flight canceled this week, said Becca Schwartz, resettlement director of Jewish Social Services of Madison, Wisconsin.

"We didn't expect this. And it's hard to understand why it's happening," Schwartz said.

"Each day that passes without this signed executive action is another day that hundreds of particularly vulnerable refugees are forced to wait to be resettled," said John Slocum, interim executive director of Refugee Council USA, in a statement.

Last month, the Biden administration proposed raising the refugee ceiling in fiscal year 2021 to 62,500, a significant increase from the 15,000 cap put in place under former President Donald Trump.

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"The President is committed to strengthening the operations of the United States Refugee Admissions Program," a White House spokesperson told CNN. "While no firm numbers have been finalized, the President's view is clear: This program will reflect the generosity and core values of the United States, while benefiting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country."

Biden's proposal not only increased the refugee cap, which dictates how many refugees may be admitted to the US annually, but also modified who could come.

The refugee cap must be approved by the President after consultation with Congress. Following the proposed change, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed lawmakers on the Biden administration's plan to raise the number of refugees who can be admitted to the US to 62,500, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

The next step is the signing of the presidential determination that would officially change the ceiling and allocations.

"It's these horrible restrictions that were in the Trump [presidential determination] that remain policy until Biden issues his new [presidential determination]," said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization.

"Normally, the way it's done, is it's done by regional allocation. The Trump administration instead decided to do it by category and if you weren't in one of those categories you'd be left out," Hetfield said.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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