Late last week, the White House announced that the ceiling on the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. this year would remain at 15,000, the number established by former President Trump. This year’s cap is the lowest in U.S. history. In fact, since October, the country has admitted just 2,050 refugees, on pace to be the fewest ever.

Following public outrage about the announcement, the White House said the President will revisit this decision and may announce a higher admissions number by May 15. While this gives us some hope, the delay is deeply troubling.

The longer the President takes to issue the so-called Presidential Determination – the ceiling on the number of refugees who can arrive this year – the more likely it is that very few refugees will enter the U.S. this year. The delay is devastating to thousands of refugees already approved for admission and to the many members of their families living in the United States eagerly awaiting their arrival.

The reasons for the President’s backpedaling vary. The federal government is managing an influx of unaccompanied children and other asylees crossing the southern border, and it is no secret that admitting refugees to the United States is not a high priority for most Americans

As advocates for both populations, we look forward to Congress and the administration providing the critical resources to serve both refugees and the surge of unaccompanied children at the border.

As the President and the State Department study their options on the number of refugees the nation will admit this year, we at IINE think our nation’s leaders need to take a moment to listen to organizations like ours that do the rewarding work of resettling refugees into communities across the country.

Welcoming refugees is a local, grassroots effort involving trained case managers employed by non-profits like IINE, faith and community groups, employers, and local philanthropists. The federal and state government provide initial funding to support newly arrived refugee families. Resettlement agencies supplement this funding with private donations, in-kind gifts, and volunteer labor. 

From 1980 until 2017, the United States was a world leader in resettling refugees. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs program reminded nations around the world to support and welcome people who were fleeing persecution and seeking peace, and our leadership encouraged other countries to treat refugees with kindness.

Since 1980, the average number of refugees admitted to this country was 95,000 per year. Still, less than one percent of all refugees actually get the chance to resettle in the U.S.

Many Americans hardly knew about the program until it became a political issue in the 2016 election. Americans now know that refugees are the most vetted immigrants to the United States, and they contribute very quickly to their new country.

In fact, if Mr. Biden sat down with the head of a construction company or leader of a hospital trying to hire more employees, he may be surprised to learn how important refugee resettlement is to economic development – in short, how much communities throughout this country rely on refugees.

Now is the time for President Biden to honor his commitments by signing a Determination Letter immediately to admit more refugees into the country. Such an action honors our nation’s heritage as a place of welcome for those fleeing persecution, re-establishes the United States as a leader in the worldwide response to the global migration crisis, and brings new talent and energy to communities across the country. 

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