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Press Release: State and Local Elected Leaders Urge Biden to Immediately Increase Refugee Admissions


April 6, 2021




124 Elected Officials Send Letter to Biden Pressing him to Sign his Proposed Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for FY21

(Washington, D.C.) – Church World Service, HIAS, the International Rescue Committee, and the International Refugee Assistance Project today jointly applauded a letter sent from 124 state and local elected officials from 35 states urging President Biden to immediately sign his proposed Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021. 

Until President Biden formally signs his previously issued proposal, the administration’s refugee policy will continue to strand tens of thousands of refugees in life-threatening situations, prolonging separation from loved ones already in the United States and breaking a promise to those fleeing violence and persecution, the American people, and international partners. Under President Biden’s yet unsigned proposal, the administration would remove discriminatory restrictions on refugee resettlement and this year’s refugee admissions goal would be raised from 15,000—a historic low set by President Trump—to 62,500 refugees, a number commensurate with the President’s commitment to rebuild the U.S. refugee admissions program. 

The signatories to today’s letter welcomed the President’s interest in repairing the damage done during the previous administration, while urging immediate action to effectuate those commitments and aid thousands of vulnerable families ready to be welcomed by American communities.

“We witness the positive impacts of refugee contributions on our communities every day, and as a part of a country built by immigrants, over generations. Refugee students, neighbors, business owners, employees, customers, elected officials, and leaders invigorate our economies, bring innovation to our towns, and strengthen our communities through their contributions to our public life and cultural institutions. In every way, they embody what it means to be an American,” wrote the signatories of today’s letter. “As you move forward with your administration’s agenda, we urge you to consider the voices of communities across the country and expeditiously sign the Emergency FY21 Presidential Determination at 62,500 refugees.” 

On February 4, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order signaling his administration’s intent to immediately begin to restore and rebuild the life-saving program in preparation for  raising the refugee admissions goal to 125,000 for Fiscal Year 2022. Later in February, his administration formally proposed and met with Congress to discuss increasing the refugee admissions goal for this year to 62,500 to meet the unprecedented and ever evolving refugee crisis, and restructuring the previous administration’s discriminatory refugee categories that exclude many from resettlement, but has thus far failed to do so. While President Biden delays in signing his proposal, over 700 flights have been cancelled for refugees, and vulnerable men, women and children remain separated from their families in harm’s way.

“Across the nation elected leaders from big cities to small towns are representing the commitment to welcome we see every day in the communities where we partner to help refugee families rebuild their lives,” said President and CEO of Church World Service Rick Santos. “We welcome their leadership and urge President Biden to immediately sign the revised presidential determination. Without an updated refugee resettlement goal, these communities remain stuck in limbo and refugees approved to travel are losing hope as their cases get further and further delayed. For those in desperate need of resettlement there is no time to waste.”

“This letter serves as a reminder that the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program is a partnership between the federal government, state and local governments, nine national charities that partner with over 200 community-based organizations across the country and, most importantly, the vetted refugees who have been invited by the U.S. government to find safety and freedom as new Americans. We all agree with President Biden’s representation to Congress that the refugee program requires “emergency” action. After two months of waiting, we all urge the President to take that action,” said Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS.

“This letter demonstrates the overwhelming support of American communities for U.S. refugee resettlement, adding to a growing list of letters of support for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In past weeks and months, we’ve heard heartbreaking accounts of families being separated and vulnerable people desperately waiting for America to show global humanitarian leadership. Many of these are families who had been barred by the Trump Administration’s limiting categories, which target Muslims and many refugees from some of the world’s worst refugee crises, including in Africa and the Middle East, and still remain in place today. We urge the President to immediately revise the annual refugee admissions goal to 62,500 and to remove the previous administration’s problematic categories to put an end to the legacy of failure and cruelty,” Hans Van de Weerd, Vice President of Resettlement, Asylum, and Integration at the International Rescue Committee, said.

“We are grateful to the signatories for expressing their continued commitment to hosting refugees in their communities and calling on the Biden administration to override the discriminatory Trump-era restrictions on resettlement. Many of their constituents are family members of the refugees that have been prevented from traveling to safety and are directly harmed every day President Biden delays signing the emergency increase in refugee admissions. We call on the President to listen to these communities and allow these families to be reunited,” said Nisha Agarwal, Deputy Executive Director at IRAP.