For many Christian voters, President Joe Biden’s campaign promises for refugees were a big part of the draw. Pro-life advocates who don’t usually vote blue took a rare chance on a Democrat following former President Donald Trump’s myriad blunders, prioritizing refugee care amidst an unprecedented surge in displaced people. But their faith initially looked misplaced, when reports revealed that Biden would be sticking to Trump’s historically low refugee ceiling, sparking frustration and anger from faith-based refugee groups who’d hoped Biden signaled a return to normalcy. That anger appears to have led to results, as Biden has delivered on his campaign promise after all, raising the refugee ceiling to 62,500 for this year.
Trump’s refugee ceiling ended at 15,000 — a historic low for a nation that likes to pride itself on welcoming refugees. The move sent refugee resettlement groups into disarray, slashing budgets and jobs in an attempt to cope with the new restrictions. Six of the nine groups that work with the government to resettle refugees are faith-based, and Trump’s throttling of the refugee program was particularly difficult for them. On the campaign trail, Biden stressed the importance of raising the refugee ceiling, saying he would bump it to 62,500 early in his time at the White House.
That’s why there was so much pushback when Biden signed a memorandum in April that was aimed at retooling the national refugee program but did not mention the ceiling. Groups expressed frustration and disappointment with what they felt to be a betrayal, and on Monday, the Biden Administration buckled.
“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,” Biden said in a statement. The White House plans on raising the refugee ceiling again to 125,000 its first full fiscal year in office.
“President Biden has reaffirmed what so many Americans have long known — refugees are welcome here and are a blessing to our communities,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, in a statement.
“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. 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,” she continued.
Still, Biden cautioned that rebuilding the refugee program will take time following four years of cuts. It’s one thing to raise the ceiling to 62,500, but quite another to actually welcome that number of refugees, and Biden said the country will be unlikely to hit that number in 2021.
“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” he said. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”
Still, faith groups cheered the move.
“HIAS commends the Biden administration for taking this long-overdue action and acknowledging the vocal public support for refugee resettlement,” wrote the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step toward restoring America’s tradition of welcoming those in need of safety and leading by example on humanitarian issues.”
Church World Service echoed HIAS’ celebration but also chided the administration for dragging its heels.
“This increase in refugee admissions will save many lives, revitalize communities, and set the stage for rebuilding and strengthening refugee protection and resettlement,” said CWS director of policy and advocacy Meredith Owen in a 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.”