President Joe Biden on Monday announced that he would raise the refugee admissions cap for the current fiscal year, from a historically low 15,000 cap put in place by the previous administration, to 62,500. The president had been expected to announce the final number by May 15. “It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he said.
It was a monumental victory for vulnerable refugees and their advocates, who had swiftly condemned the president’s shocking decision last month to back down from his pledge raising this current fiscal year’s cap. Under pressure, the administration then reportedly put the 62,500 number back on the table, though everything was still a big “maybe.” Then on Monday, it became official: the cap would be raised to 62,500 after all.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), celebrated the news in a statement. The resettlement agency had been among the many voices that criticized the president for initially backing down from his pledge, saying at the time “[t]here is no logistical or administrative reason we can't protect” refugees who due to strict vetting standards have been waiting for as long as two years to arrive to the U.S.
“The new admissions ceiling reflects our core values as a welcoming nation, and finally aligns public policy with the unprecedented global need of millions forced from their home by violence, war, and persecution,” the LIRS leader said. “As leader of the free world, the United States has a moral obligation to address this crisis—it’s incredibly heartening to once again see an administration who takes our nation’s humanitarian responsibilities seriously. The work of rebuilding the infrastructure has been underway and will accelerate thanks to President Biden’s determination today to revitalize refugee resettlement.”
Biden both as a candidate and president-elect pledged to raise the refugee cap for the first full fiscal year to 125,000, a number he reaffirmed in his statement on Monday. “The new admissions cap will also reinforce efforts that are already underway to expand the United States’ capacity to admit refugees, so that we can reach the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions that I intend to set for the coming fiscal year,” he said.
However, Biden said that with roughly five months left in the current fiscal year, reaching the 62,500 cap will likely not be possible. Another two months or so were also lost when the administration delayed on announcing the cap that came in April. “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” the president said. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years.” The president also said the 125,000 cap would “be hard to hit. We might not make it the first year. But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries.”
Agencies that help resettle refugees and their families in the U.S. should be given every resource they need to continue doing so—and advocates who swiftly pushed back on the administration when it announced it was keeping the previous administration’s cap in place must continue being vigilant to ensure our nation keeps its promise to vulnerable people. Lives are depending on it—and it is necessary if we are to truly move on from the draconian policies of the previous administration.
“As former refugees, we know that advocacy works,” Basma Alawee, an Iraqi refugee and co-chair of Opportunity for All campaign, said in a statement received by Daily Kos. “Organizing works. And because of those efforts, today we have won. We thank President Biden for demonstrating a political commitment towards welcoming more refugees. Now our work will continue to ensure that the refugee admissions goal is met and increased to 125,000 refugees next year, and that refugees are integrated into this country.”
“President Biden’s decision to increase the United States refugee admissions ceiling to 62,500 refugees this fiscal year is a profoundly important step,” Refugees International president Eric Schwartz said in a statement received by Daily Kos. “This will pave the way for the administration to make good on its commitment to rebuild the U.S. refugee admissions program and restore U.S. leadership on this critical issue.”
“There is a long road ahead to rebuilding the refugee resettlement program,” he continued, “but we can finally march full steam ahead with communities across the United States to restore this critical initiative.” Elissa Diaz, policy and advocacy manager at Church World Service and co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, said in a statement received by Daily Kos that “[a]fter months of uncertainty, this is terrific news for refugees who have been waiting to be resettled in the United States.”