Let’s Truly Achieve the Goal of Welcoming 125,000 Refugees, Say U.S. Bishops

On 27 September, U.S. President Joseph Biden signed the annual Presidential Determination, establishing the goal of welcoming up to 125,000 refugees to the United States for the fiscal year 2023, which began on 1 October. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the country’s national member organization of ICMC’s global network, welcomed the announcement, with Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Migration, stating: “Let us truly strive toward this goal of resettling 125,000 refugees.”

Let’s Truly Achieve the Goal of Welcoming 125,000 Refugees, Say U.S. Bishops
Civil society organizations working in resettlement welcome the Administration’s commitment to rebuilding the refugee admissions program and urge it to continue scaling up its capacity to respond to the increase in global resettlement needs. Photo: Refugees identified for resettlement to the U.S. take part in cultural orientation sessions at the ICMC-managed Resettlement Support Center in Istanbul, Turkey. ©Guido Dingemas/ICMC

In a statement following the news, the bishop called attention to the long history of the United States with welcoming newly arriving people. “This is an ambitious and worthwhile goal for our nation, which has benefitted from many blessings throughout its history, including the generations of refugees who have already enriched American communities. My brother bishops and I remain fully committed to our Church’s centuries-old tradition of welcoming newcomers in this country, especially those fleeing the devastations of war, violence, persecution, political instability, and natural disasters,” he said.

“As we embrace this ministry given to us by Jesus, we look to the President and Congress for their continued support of a robust resettlement program, consistent with our national values,” Bishop Dorsonville added.

In effect, the target of 125,000 for refugee admissions remains stable with the numbers announced for the previous fiscal year. However, many advocacy groups and civil society organizations pointed out that, in 2022, just over ­­20,000 people entered the country via the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), representing less than 20% of the target. Last year, nevertheless, marks the first time since 2019 that the number has surpassed 20,000, owing to previous policy decisions that precipitated the widescale dismantling of programs and infrastructure dedicated to processing applications for refugee resettlement in the United States.

The Presidential Determination 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 since Congress adopted the Refugee Act in 1980. Between 1980 and 2017, the average Presidential Determination stood at 95,000.

Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), a coalition of which ICMC is a member, also reacted to the news, noting that the group is encouraged by the due diligence shown in the Administration’s engagement in consultations with Congress on the number, as required by law, and for having made the announcement before the 1 October deadline, when the fiscal year begins. Without the signature of the Presidential Determination, refugee admissions cannot take place at all, and effectively grind to a halt.

RCUSA as a group had earlier called for higher numbers of refugee admissions, aiming for up to 200,000 entries, based on what they said they have seen in the Administration’s capacity to scale up services rapidly, and the increased global need. For the first time in history, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, announced that the number of people living uprooted from their homes and places of origin had surpassed 100 million in 2022, a grim milestone brought on by increasing numbers of enmeshed conflicts, climate disasters, and ensuing hunger.

A ray of sunshine, too

On a positive note, during a recent workshop on 26-27 September co-organized by ICMC and the Canadian Embassy to the Holy See, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes, explained that to meet the surging demands of an unprecedented global displacement crisis, the government is increasingly exploring the potential of community sponsorship to enhance and expand support for refugees in the U.S.

“On 20 January 2021, the President issued an Executive Order instructing the State Department to design a community-led private sponsorship pilot program, as a complement to the government-led U.S. Refugee Admission Program,” Ambassador Noyes said. Initially, the program aimed for a launch in early 2022, but in August 2021, all resources were redirected to respond to the crisis in Afghanistan.  In just six months, she said, 82,000 Afghans were resettled in the U.S. These numbers are not included in the 2022 Presidential Determination as they are part of a new mechanisms, called ‘humanitarian parole’. For the time being, this emergency protection measure remains temporary.

What had been developed up to that point for the foundations of the pilot community sponsorship program underpinned the new Sponsor Circle Program, a community-led resettlement initiative that supports everyday Americans in taking on the responsibility of welcoming newcomers to their communities. The knowledge and experience gained allowed for a quick and robust response to help Ukrainians fleeing war when that conflict exploded in early 2022.

“The circles represent pockets of new capacity around the country and remarkable acts of engagement by everyday Americans from all walks of life,” Ambassador Noyes said, noting that many come from immigrant communities who are ‘paying forward’ the warmth and welcome they received as refugees a generation prior, sometimes before the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program formally existed.

Nancy McNally

*Communications Officer, ICMC

mcnally@icmc.net | +39 3484508118 (Rome, Italy)

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