NEW YORK – After President Joe Biden raised the refugee admissions cap to 62,500 Monday, Catholics leaders and immigration advocates applauded the move, but still wish that it happened sooner.
“This increase was a crucial step toward rebuilding the crippled Refugee Admissions Program,” said Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration in a statement Tuesday. “We view this as a stepping stone toward the Administration’s stated goal of 125,000 admissions, a figure more consistent with our values and capabilities as a nation.”
62,500 will be the refugee admissions cap number for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends September 30. When Biden announced the move Monday, he touted it as an essential but unachievable step for his administration to take.
“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the mind 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 Monday.
“We are going to rebuild what has been broken and push hard to complete the rigorous screening process for those refugees already in the pipeline for admission,” the president continued. “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year.”
Biden also noted that the new 62,5000 number reinforces the administration’s efforts to reach 125,000 admissions in Fiscal Year 2022. However, the president admitted that, that goal also might not be met.
“That goal will be hard to hit. We might not make it the first [full fiscal] year,” Biden said. “But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries.”
When Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute considers the fact that it’s possible that neither goal will be met, he said part of it might be moderating expectations, but it’s “also a reflection of the fact that we waited so long to begin rebuilding the system.”
“We have waited so long our hopes have to be tempered with the realism that we really are rebuilding a system that was atrophied,” Corbett told Crux. “The president should’ve taken earlier action on this.”
That said, Corbett is still pleased that the decision was made. He called it an important step “towards rebuilding the system of refugee resettlement” in the U.S., and “towards rebuilding American leadership in refugee resettlement around the world.”
Father Pat Murphy, director of Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico, also wished the decision had come sooner.
“It gives a lot more people hope but he’s too late in the game because once you start cutting off the numbers all the resources start to die off,” Murphy told Crux. “It’ll take a while to be able to change and meet the need, to be able to take care of people.”
Rachel Pollock, the USCCB director of resettlement services, said Catholics nationwide are ready to help.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to rebuild the resettlement program,” Pollock told Crux. “It’s going to take some time to put all of that information into place and get things moving again and I would say the Catholic network around the U.S., we’re really eager and ready to engage in this work of welcoming our brothers and sisters in need.”
In April, Biden drew criticism from refugee advocates when he announced that the historically low refugee admissions cap of 15,000 set by the Trump administration would not be increased because of the present situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the president backtracked a day later.
Corbett said the situation at the border shouldn’t affect refugee admissions.
“I think that’s not true and I think there’s broad recognition that we can walk and chew gum. We can receive unaccompanied minors at the border at the same time we’re professing refugees fleeing violence around the world,” he said. “They’re distinct efforts.”
He added “there were political considerations that weighed on his judgement in making the decision with respect to the numbers, but that shouldn’t be the case.”
Corbett credits the faith community for Monday’s decision.
“It’s a reflection that the president heard the pushback of people who are directly involved in working with refugees around the world, including the faith community and including the Catholic community,” he said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg