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Biden raises refugee ceiling, and faith-based groups brace for rebuilding work

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Faith-based refugee resettlement groups are celebrating President Joe Biden’s decision to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. for the remainder of the federal fiscal year to 62,500, even as they acknowledge that they need to rebuild their capacity after years of cuts under the previous administration.

The announcement from the Biden White House comes after significant pushback from the faith-based groups that form the backbone of the nation’s refugee resettlement program after the president signed a memorandum last month aimed at speeding up refugee admissions that did not touch the historic low set by former President Donald Trump.

RELATED: Biden reverses course on refugee cap after faith groups express outrage

In a statement released Monday (May 3) by the White House, Biden announced he was raising the ceiling to 62,500 from the number set by the Trump administration — just 15,000 in the 2019 fiscal year.

“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.

That will reinforce efforts to rebuild the U.S. refugee resettlement program after cuts made by Trump, according to the statement.

It also is a step on the way to raising the refugee ceiling to 125,000 in Biden’s first full fiscal year in office, which begins in October.

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah. Photo courtesy of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah. Photo courtesy of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

“President Biden has reaffirmed what so many Americans have long known — refugees are welcome here and are a blessing to our communities,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a written 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,” Vignarajah wrote.

But the president also appeared careful to set expectations in his announcement.

“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.”

RELATED: Canceled flights, expired clearances: US refugee resettlement in limbo awaiting promised changes

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