Resettlement Agencies Urge U.S. Administration to Honor its Commitment to Refugees

The nine national refugee resettlement agencies of the United States, including the Migration and Refugees Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have urged the U.S. Administration to increase the number of refugee admissions to the country. They call upon the president to authorize the arrival of 62,500 refugees by the end of September 2021.

Resettlement Agencies Urge U.S. Administration to Honor its Commitment to Refugees
“We welcomed the news of your [February] proposal to resettle 62,500 refugees this year,” said the nine national resettlement agencies in their letter to President Biden. “However, we are growing increasingly alarmed at the delay in signing the revised presidential determination.” Photo: A young refugee awaiting resettlement to the U.S. poses with the flag at ICMC’s Resettlement Support Center in Istanbul, Turkey. © Nathalie Perroud/ICMC

In a 9 April letter to President Joseph Biden, the nine U.S. national domestic refugee resettlement agencies urge him to honor his commitment of increasing refugee resettlement opportunities. Among the agencies is the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)’s national member, Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which assists in the resettlement of approximately 30% of refugees to the country. Its resettlement network includes over 100 diocesan offices across the country.

“We welcomed the news of your proposal to resettle 62,500 refugees this year,” the agencies said, referring to a presidential executive order signed in February. “However, we are growing increasingly alarmed at the delay in signing the revised presidential determination.” The letter adds that some 700 refugees awaiting resettlement have been forced to cancel their flights to the U.S. because of the delay.

The nine agencies also asked for a broadening of the categories of refugees eligible for resettlement. “Only refugees from the very narrow categories set by the last Administration are currently able to receive resettlement protection. This continuously puts the lives of thousands of vulnerable refugees at peril and leaves out thousands of refugees fleeing the most violent and protracted crises worldwide who were arbitrarily excluded from the current category scheme,” the agencies stated. For example, Syrian refugees, who represent 41% of resettlement needs, made up just 4% of refugee admissions to the U.S. in Fiscal Year 2020.

In February, the Administration stated the need to assist refugees excluded from the previous Administration’s decision on refugee resettlement. The current Administration proposed to increase refugee resettlement to 62,500 in the current fiscal year, which ends in September. Also in February, the Administration released an executive order to “launch administrative reform efforts” to increase refugee admissions to 125,000 in fiscal year 2022.

Disappointment and expectations

On 16 April, the White House released a new memorandum with revised quotas of refugee admittances based on countries of departure. The new memorandum maintained the cap of 15,000 refugees set by the previous Administration.

Later that same day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that the “initial [refugee resettlement] goal of 62,500 seems unlikely” in fiscal year 2021, citing the poor state of the refugee admissions program inherited from the previous Administration. He added that the President would set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of the fiscal year by 15 May. It remains unclear what this new cap might be.

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, expressed his disappointment following the White House’s 16 April remarks. “[W]e were hopeful that the Biden Administration would increase the ceiling for refugee admissions in this fiscal year, and we are disappointed that it has not yet done so,” he wrote in a statement published on 19 April.

“The number of refugees who will be welcomed this year is far short of what we can do as a country and is not an adequate response to the immense resettlement need,” Bishop Dorsonville added. “We expect the Administration to recalibrate and raise this ceiling.”

The nine signatories to the 9 April letter provide resettlement assistance to refugees entering the U.S. They represent over 250 local affiliate organizations whose responsibilities include greeting refugees at the airport and helping them find housing and access services. 

Migration and Refugee Services, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is one of these nine resettlement agencies. Its resettlement network includes over 100 diocesan offices across the country.

“It is imperative that we welcome our brothers and sisters, who are in need around the world, here in the United States. We must act now to ensure that we are doing our part to help desperate refugees in need,” said William Canny, Executive Director of USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services and member of ICMC’s Governing Committee.

The maximum number of refugees admitted to the U.S. annually is decided by the Presidential Determination, and is usually announced in September. For the Fiscal Year 2021, the last Administration set the ceiling to 15,000, a record low since the adoption of the Refugee Act of 1980. But in fact, the U.S. has admitted only 2,050 refugees since October 2020. Between 1980 and 2017, the average Presidential Determination stood at 95,000.

Article last updated on 20 April.

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