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USCCB applauds Biden for raising limit on refugee admissions

Refugee family Jazzmany/Shutterstock

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday praised the Biden Administration for its decision to raise the refugee ceiling.

“As a nation of immigrants, we have a moral obligation to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are in need. The updated refugee admissions cap is a step in the right direction to help those who need it most,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and chair of the USCCB’s migration committee, in a statement on Tuesday. 

On Monday, May 3, the Biden Administration announced that it would be increasing the limit on the number of refugees admitted to the United States for the 2021 fiscal year; the new cap for refugee admissions has now been set at 62,500.

Dorsonville said the bishops were “pleased” at the decision, adding that it is “a crucial step toward rebuilding the crippled Refugee Admissions Program.”

“We view this number as a stepping stone toward the Administration’s stated goal of 125,000 admissions, a figure more consistent with our values and capabilities as a nation,” he said. 

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Addressing the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services in November, Biden had announced his goal of eventually resettling 125,000 refugees. In executive actions signed on Feb. 4, he said he intended to make reforms to U.S. refugee admissions, with the goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in the 2022 fiscal year.

“For decades, the United States has been a leader in refugee resettlement,” Dorsonville said on Tuesday. “We are in the midst of the greatest forced displacement crisis of our lifetime and know that there are more than 26 million refugees worldwide and more than 47 million people who are internally displaced.”

The bishop added that it was “imperative” that the United States act to “ensure the safety of these individuals and their families,” and that welcoming refugees is in line with the Church’s teaching on human dignity. 

“It is more important now than ever that our country continue to lead as we address this humanitarian emergency,” he said. 

While President Biden had previously signaled his intent to raise the refugee ceiling, he did not issue a final determination to do so during the initial weeks of his administration. The delay frustrated immigration and refugee groups, who told CNA last month they were “disappointed” at the slow pace of refugee admissions.

According to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that assists refugees, as of mid-April only 2,050 refugees had been admitted to the United States in the 2021 fiscal year. Biden issued a draft “Presidential Determination” in February that would have raised the refugee cap to 62,500, but he did not sign it. 

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On April 16, about eight weeks after the draft Presidential Determination was issued, the Biden administration said it would be keeping the refugee cap at 15,000 for the current fiscal year, a number which was set by former President Donald Trump. The limit of 15,000 was the lowest-recorded number in the history of the refugee resettlement program.

Later that day, Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified that “The President’s directive today has been the subject of some confusion.” and added that the president “has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1.” 

Psaki said that a new refugee cap would be announced by May 15; on Monday, Biden raised the cap.

According to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is nearly 80 million. There are nearly 26 million refugees around the globe, UNHCR says.

The bishops and Catholic Relief Services did praise previous actions by the Biden administration on immigration, including the lifting of a Trump-era travel ban from several Muslim-majority and African countries. Bishop Dorsonville also praised Biden’s action on April 16 to allow for prompt admission of refugees from certain geographic areas.

The Obama administration had set a target for resettling 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, but President Trump declared a halt to refugee admissions after he took office and ultimately set a limit of 50,000 refugees to be resettled that year. His administration progressively lowered the refugee cap to the initial 2021 limit of 15,000.

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