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Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic organizations expressed dismay that the United States this year could admit the lowest number of refugees in decades. 

According to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that assists refugees, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the United States in the current fiscal year. Although President Biden promised to raise the limit on the number of refugees accepted by the United States, he has yet to issue the final orders to implement that.

In February, Biden pledged to raise the refugee cap to 62,500 – nearly four times the current cap of 15,000. 

While he included that number in a proposed Presidential Determination – part of the administrative process for allowing refugees to come to the United States – he has yet to issue a final version of the determination. Catholic groups told CNA that they want Biden to issue a final determination. 

Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee, told CNA on Wednesday that he is “absolutely” disappointed with the Biden administration on refugee admissions.

“We are very disturbed that without a presidential determination, refugee resettlement has effectively been halted,” Canny said. 

“We know that there were hundreds of refugees prepared to come to the United States,” he added, but with no determination issued yet, “those refugees are not moving.”

Canny said that he is “certainly disturbed” by the slow pace of refugee resettlement. He said it is “not clear” why Biden has not made refugee resettlement a priority. 

Canny told CNA that he believes the United States can easily welcome additional refugees – and that it is the duty of a Catholic to do so. 

“We believe as the Catholic church that we need to do our part to welcome these people to our country,” Canny said. “And we are prepared certainly as a Church in the United States to assist and support refugees that the government allows into the country.”

Catholic Relief Services has also pushed for Biden to increase the United States’ refugee intake.

“We urge the administration to issue a formal Presidential Determination meeting its stated objective of increasing the number of refugee admissions this fiscal year,” Bill O’Keefe, Catholic Relief Services’ executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy, told CNA on Wednesday. 

O’Keefe noted that refugees are “fleeing war, persecution and extreme violence,” and “often lack access to adequate healthcare, housing, food and water” – conditions which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The U.S. handpicks refugees who resettle here, and they go through multiple layers of interviews and security checks,” said O’Keefe.  “As the world’s most prosperous nation, we should be doing as much as possible to help refugees, including resettling our share of the most vulnerable.”

Biden in February issued an executive order stating goals of reforming the refugee assistance program and increasing the number of refugees accepted to 125,000 per year.

“President Biden’s Executive Order sends a message loud and clear: refugees are welcome in the United States of America,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated after the order was issued.

The Trump administration progressively lowered the ceiling for refugee acceptance to the record-low of 15,000 for the 2021 fiscal year, and reportedly admitted fewer than 12,000 refugees in 2020. 

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