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Biden to open US to refugees with increase in resettlements

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CNA Staff, Nov 12, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Presumptive president-elect Joe Biden says he plans for the U.S. to resettle far more refugees in 2021 than in recent years. The move would be a reversal of standing Trump administration policy.

In an announcement for the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), a Catholic organization which supports and helps resettle refugees in the U.S., Biden stated his intent to multiply the number of refugees accepted by the U.S. in 2021.

“The Biden-Harris administration will restore America’s historic role in protecting the vulnerable and defending the rights of refugees everywhere, in raising our annual refugee admission target to 125,000,” Biden said on Thursday evening.

The current limit on refugee acceptance for FY 2021 is just 15,000, the lowest-recorded number since the U.S. refugee resettlement program began in 1980.

Biden’s announcement is a departure from the Trump administration’s continued reduction of refugee acceptance. In the 2016 fiscal year, the Obama administration accepted 85,000 refugees with a goal of accepting 110,000 refugees in FY 2017.

When he took office in 2017, President Trump announced a 120-day ban on refugee admissions and limited refugee resettlement to a maximum of 50,000 for the rest of the fiscal year.

His administration subsequently lowered the resettlement ceiling each year, reaching the all-time low of 15,000 for FY 2021. The U.S. only accepted 9,000 refugees in the 2020 fiscal year, having set a maximum quota of 18,000 refugees but suspending the asylum system in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Catholic groups, including JRS, Catholic Relief Services, and the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), urged the administration to accept more refugees amid a global refugee crisis.

“We continue to be disappointed by the Trump Administration’s diminishment of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, as these decisions have a tangible impact on those fleeing religious persecution and other vulnerable families in need of refuge,” stated USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez on Oct. 2.

There is a backlog of 1.1 million refugee and asylum claims, the State Department said in a Sept. 30 media note, and it anticipated receiving more than 300,000 new claims in 2021.

In response to Biden’s announcement on Thursday, Jesuit Refugee Service executive director Joan Rosenhauer said the group was “honored” by Biden’s commitment.

“This is a great organization,” Biden said. “JRS believes that, in the stranger, we actually meet our neighbor, and that every society is ultimately judged by how we treat those most in need.”

Other notable Catholics were scheduled to address the JRS celebration on Thursday, including comedians Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan, Fr. James Martin, SJ, NIAID head Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Olympian swimmer Katie Ledecky.


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