Opening doors to refugees

President Joe Biden announced Oct. 8 that he would raise the cap for refugee admissions in fiscal year 2022 to 125,000. The decision comes as no surprise, as the president made refugee resettlement an election promise.

Through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), Biden’s decision, known as a presidential determination, establishes the overall number of refugee admissions for the upcoming fiscal year.

The order comes less than two months after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, which made refugee admissions from that country a high priority. The announcement was greeted with praise by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The USCCB is one of nine national agencies that partners with the U.S. government in refugee resettlement. “The Catholic Church’s involvement in refugee resettlement stems from the church’s social teaching on the common good and is consistent with its longstanding role in welcoming newcomers and supporting integration,” according to an Oct. 11 USCCB news release.

“The last few years have had a devastating impact on refugee resettlement, all while we witness the greatest forced migration crises in decades,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington who is chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. 

“We commend the administration for seeking to reassert American leadership in this area, and we look forward to continued action in support of this goal,” he said. “We also urge Congress to provide the resources necessary to not only rebuild the Refugee Admissions Program, but sustain it for the next four decades and beyond.”

Soon after his election in 2016, former President Donald Trump suspended the USRAP for 120 days. His executive order also temporarily banned entry and froze refugee applications from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order, after numerous challenges in lower courts, was found to be discriminatory and labeled a “Muslim ban.”

When the Trump administration reinstated the USRAP, he set the fiscal year (FY) 2018 cap at 45,000. At the time, it was the lowest cap since the admission program was established in 1980. The cap went down each year: 30,000 for FY 2019, 18,000 for FY 2020 and 15,000 for 2021. (Biden later raised the 2021 ceiling to 62,500.)

The withdrawal of support for refugees worldwide had another perilous impact, as other countries followed the previous administration’s actions. As a result, only 34,400 refugees were resettled around the world in 2020, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). That was down from 126,291 in 2016.

J.C. Hendrickson, who serves as the IRC’s senior director of refugee and asylum policy, said the increased refugee cap will not only save lives, “it’s also going to encourage other countries to step up their commitments in a big way.”

Lest we forget, accompanying the refugee is an important part of our Christian witness. 

In his 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, Pope Francis suggested that “our pastoral response to the challenges of contemporary movements of migration can be expressed by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.”

Finally, as Bishop Dorsonville reminds us, “We as Catholics are called to this ministry of welcome and encounter, through which we express the fullness of the church’s universality.”