The Revised Refugee Admission Cap is a “Step in the Right Direction,” Says U.S. Bishop

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the U.S. Administration’s 3 May decision to increase the cap on refugee resettlement to 62,5000 by the end of September 2021. 

The Revised Refugee Admission Cap is a “Step in the Right Direction,” Says U.S. Bishop
“For decades, the United States has been a leader in refugee resettlement,” said Bishop Dorsonville in his statement. “It is more important now than ever that our country continue to lead as we address this humanitarian emergency.” Photo: Two fathers, resettled Congolese refugee Majidi Al Shabani and American Cobi Cogbill, hang out in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as their children play. © UNHCR/Lucian Perkins

In a 4 May statement, Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, called President Joseph Biden’s decision to increase the maximum number of refugees admitted to the country in the fiscal year 2021 a “step in the right direction.”

The increase is “a crucial step toward rebuilding the crippled [U.S.] Refugee Admissions Program. We view this number as a stepping stone toward the Administration’s stated goal of 125,000 [refugee] admissions [in the fiscal year 2022], a figure more consistent with our values and capabilities as a nation,” noted Bishop Dorsonville.

U.S. resettlement agencies had been awaiting President Biden’s announcement. During his campaign, Mr. Biden promised to increase the cap on refugees from 15,000 to 62,500 for the current fiscal year. Early in April, the USCCB and other national U.S. resettlement agencies mobilized to urge the president to take swift action to honor his promise. 

On 16 April, President Biden released a revised Presidential Determination. While it reopened access to the program to some groups whose access was limited by the previous administration’s admissions categories, the order failed to increase the cap on refugee admissions, maintaining the historically low ceiling established by the Trump administration. Later that same day, Biden’s administration declared that a new quota would be announced in May. On 19 April, the USCCB published a statement by Bishop Dorsonville in which he expressed disappointment that the refugee admissions number had not yet been raised and his hope that President Biden would quickly take this step.

Biden’s new refugee cap came with an acknowledgement that the new target would be difficult to achieve, given capacity gaps in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program and the fact that the U.S. Fiscal Year ends on 30 September. “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 [actual refugee] admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway,” President Biden said in his 3 May statement. 

The Presidential Determination, usually announced in September, sets the ceiling for the number of refugees that the U.S. can admit in a fiscal year. This ceiling has historically been viewed as a target by policy makers of all political leanings. Last September’s ceiling of 15,000 was the lowest since Congress adopted the Refugee Act in 1980. Between 1980 and 2017, the average Presidential Determination stood at 95,000.

In his statement, Bishop Dorsonville embraces a return to previous policies and practices for the U.S. refugee resettlement. “For decades, the United States has been a leader in refugee resettlement. We are in the midst of the greatest forced displacement crisis of our lifetime,” he said. “The Catholic Church teaches that every person is created in God’s image and must be valued, protected, and respected for the inherent dignity that he or she possesses. It is more important now than ever that our country continue to lead as we address this humanitarian emergency.”

The USCCB is the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)’s national member. The USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services assists in the resettlement of approximately 30% of refugees to the country. Its resettlement network includes over 100 diocesan offices.

ICMC has been working on refugee resettlement since it was founded in 1951. Through its Resettlement Support Center for Turkey and Middle East based in Istanbul, ICMC accompanies refugees in their resettlement process to the USA. ICMC also provides expert resettlement capacity through the ICMC Deployment Scheme, which lists more than 300 qualified specialists ready to be dispatched to its partners’ operations when crucial support is needed.

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