U.S. Refugee Ceiling Raised, Faith-based Resettlement Groups Prepare to Rebuild, Then Welcome

A woman carries her belongings back into Bangassou, Central African Republic, from Ndu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she had taken refuge, Feb. 14, 2021. An estimated 240,000 people have been displaced in the country since mid-December, according to U.N. relief workers.
AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant

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Following U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. for the remainder of the federal fiscal year to 62,500, faith-based refugee resettlement groups are preparing to rebuild their capacity after years of cuts under the previous administration.

In a statement released Monday (May 3) by the White House, Biden announced he was raising the ceiling to 62,500 from the number set by the Trump administration—just 15,000 in the 2019 fiscal year.

It’s a step on the way to raising the refugee ceiling to 125,000 in Biden’s first full fiscal year in office, which begins in October.

“President Biden has reaffirmed what so many Americans have long known—refugees are welcome here and are a blessing to our communities,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a written statement.

Officials at multiple faith-based agencies told Religion News Service they weren’t given advance warning of the announcement, but they welcomed the shift.

Related: Refugee Resettlement Groups Advocate Amidst Immigration Change (Church Worldwide, Feb. 23, 2018)

Six of the nine agencies contracted by the U.S. government to resettle refugees are faith-based: LIRS, Church World Service, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Episcopal Migration Ministries, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief.

Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy and policy at World Relief, told RNS in an email that the new number "is a necessary first action, and many refugees’ lives will be changed as a result of the president’s actions today.”

"There is much work still to be done to rebuild the resettlement infrastructure and restore refugee processing, but we look forward to partnering with the Biden-Harris administration on this important work,” she said.

Church World Service also released a statement celebrating that Biden had fulfilled his promise to raise the refugee ceiling and urging his administration to immediately rebuild the infrastructure needed to expand resettlement capacity in the U.S.

"This increase in refugee admissions will save many lives, revitalize communities, and set the stage for rebuilding and strengthening refugee protection and resettlement,” said Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy at CWS.

But, Owen said in the statement, “The three-month delay in formalizing the increased admissions goal disheartened our communities and caused real harm to thousands of refugees who had been approved for resettlement earlier this year."

Monday’s announcement follows an executive order Biden signed in February, which he said at the time would position his administration to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. from 15,000 to 125,000 in its first full fiscal year.

It’s unclear why the administration initially hesitated to raise that number.

Vignarajah of the Lutheran refugee service group called the challenge of ramping up admissions “daunting.”

But, she said, “America has risen to the occasion before, and given the global need, we must do it again.”

Not only is there support from the White House to resettle refugees, but also from the “innumerable faith congregations” that make up the Lutheran group’s network of support for refugees resettled in their communities.

“Today, we breathe a sigh of relief for our refugee brothers and sisters still in harm’s way, and for the thousands of families who have been forced to delay their reunification for years,” she said. “We feel hopeful and blessed to be a part of reviving this lifesaving work.”

By Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins for Religion News Service

© Religion News Service

For information on the Christian Reformed Church’s work and ministry among refugees, see the Office of Social Justice’s issue page.

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