August 01, 2022

Hirono, Durbin, Warnock, and 27 Senate Democrats Call on Biden Administration to Increase the Rate of Refugee Admissions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), along with 27 of their Senate Democratic colleagues, in calling on the Biden Administration to work urgently to increase the rate of refugee admissions for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. In a letter to President Joe Biden, the Senators further urge the President to maintain or increase the target of 125,000 refugee admissions in FY 2023 and take meaningful steps to meet this target.

“According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a record high of more than 89.3 million people, 42 percent of whom are children, were displaced at the end of 2021. The displaced population includes 27.1 million refugees,” the Senators wrote. “UNHCR estimates that in 2023 over two million refugees will need to be resettled. In our own region, Central America faces a growing refugee crisis, with more than 800,000 people who have sought refuge in neighboring nations or have been internally displaced… We urge your Administration to ensure that the United States scales up capacity to process refugees in these regions and across all nationalities with protection needs, particularly those who have been languishing in precarious situations awaiting resettlement, such as family reunification cases.”

Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States resettled an average of more than 80,000 refugees per year, until the Trump Administration slashed the refugee admissions ceiling each year it was in office, ending at an historic low of just 15,000 for FY 2021. These drastic cuts have hobbled the resettlement infrastructure in this nation and made it difficult to quickly rebuild the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The U.S. resettled 11,411 refugees last fiscal year, the lowest figure since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980.

The Senators continued, “We commend you for recommitting the United States to its historic role as a global leader in refugee resettlement by setting a ceiling of 125,000 for FY 2022. However, we are deeply concerned that as of June 30, 2022, the United States has only resettled 15,100 refugees this fiscal year. Despite the challenges of rebuilding the USRAP that your Administration inherited, we can and must do better. The dismantling of programs by the Trump Administration has hindered our efforts to resettle more refugees, and as such, your Administration must take the necessary steps to promptly ensure the United States has a robust, functioning, durable refugee resettlement system.”

The Senators concluded, “The success of [Operation Allies Welcome] and Uniting for Ukraine have proven that, under your leadership, our country is fully capable of bringing vulnerable displaced people to safety in the United States when you commit the government to doing so. We urge you to expeditiously and safely admit all qualified refugees who are waiting to be resettled. Additionally, we urge you to set a robust target for USRAP in FY2023 as soon as possible and devote sufficient resources to meet this target.”

In addition to Senators Hirono, Durbin, and Warnock, the letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

The full text of the letter to President Biden is available here and below.

August 1, 2022

Dear President Biden:

We respectfully ask that you work urgently to increase the rate of refugee admissions for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. Furthermore, we urge you to maintain or increase the target of 125,000 refugee admissions in FY 2023 and take meaningful steps to meet this target.

We applaud your Administration’s work to expeditiously bring to the United States 85,000 Afghan nationals, U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW). Similarly, we commend your support for those displaced by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine through the Uniting for Ukraine parole program, which has allowed Americans to welcome and support more than 20,000 people in just the first three months of its operation. The success of these initiatives demonstrates our government’s capacity to swiftly offer protection to vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a record high of more than 89.3 million people, 42 percent of whom are children, were displaced at the end of 2021. The displaced population includes 27.1 million refugees. UNHCR estimates that in 2023 over two million refugees will need to be resettled. In our own region, Central America faces a growing refugee crisis, with more than 800,000 people who have sought refuge in neighboring nations or have been internally displaced. Haiti is also facing a rapid decline in internal security and a compounding political, environmental, and humanitarian emergency. In West Africa, amidst an ongoing civil war, Cameroon is facing high levels of internal displacement, as well as receiving thousands of foreign refugees. These are just a few examples of the current refugee challenges around the world. We urge your Administration to ensure that the United States scales up capacity to process refugees in these regions and across all nationalities with protection needs, particularly those who have been languishing in precarious situations awaiting resettlement, such as family reunification cases.

Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States resettled an average of more than 80,000 refugees per year, until the Trump Administration slashed the refugee admissions ceiling each year it was in office, ending at an historic low of just 15,000 for FY 2021. We understand that the Trump Administration’s drastic cuts to refugee admissions also hobbled the resettlement infrastructure in United States, with many refugee resettlement organizations closing offices and laying off employees.

Combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing vacancies resulting from a yearlong hiring freeze at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services imposed by the previous Administration, these cuts have made it difficult to quickly rebuild the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Although you raised the refugee ceiling to 65,000 for FY 2021, the United States only resettled 11,411 refugees last fiscal year, the lowest figure since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980.

We commend you for recommitting the United States to its historic role as a global leader in refugee resettlement by setting a ceiling of 125,000 for FY 2022. However, we are deeply concerned that as of June 30, 2022, the United States has only resettled 15,100 refugees this fiscal year. Despite the challenges of rebuilding the USRAP that your Administration inherited, we can and must do better. The dismantling of programs by the Trump Administration has hindered our efforts to resettle more refugees, and as such, your Administration must take the necessary steps to promptly ensure the United States has a robust, functioning, durable refugee resettlement system.

It is imperative that your Administration continue to invest in the sustainability of the refugee resettlement program. We appreciate the steps that your Administration has taken this fiscal year to rebuild the overseas and domestic infrastructure to ready the USRAP for higher arrival numbers. However, more work needs to be done so that we can restore and expand our nation’s capacity to welcome the most vulnerable refugees from around the world.

The success of OAW and Uniting for Ukraine have proven that, under your leadership, our country is fully capable of bringing vulnerable displaced people to safety in the United States when you commit the government to doing so. We urge you to expeditiously and safely admit all qualified refugees who are waiting to be resettled. Additionally, we urge you to set a robust target for USRAP in FY2023 as soon as possible and devote sufficient resources to meet this target.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

###