CWS Hails Anniversary of 1980 Refugee Act, Expresses Deep Frustration with Delay in Increasing Refugee Arrivals, Calls on Administration, Congress for Restoration of Lifesaving Resettlement Program and Asylum System

March 17, 2021

Washington, D.C.—Church World Service today celebrated the anniversary of the signing of the Refugee Act of 1980 and called on President Biden to sign a revised refugee admissions goal of 62,500 for FY 2021 as soon as possible. Forty-one years ago Congress passed the landmark legislation establishing the U.S. refugee resettlement program and firmly placing into law the United States’ role as a compassionate, humanitarian leader in times of turmoil. Last month the Biden administration proposed, and met with Congress to discuss, increasing the refugee admissions goal for this year to 62,500 to meet the unprecedented and ever evolving refugee crisis, but has thus far failed to do so. 

“Forty-one years ago Congress came together in an act of bipartisan unity to pass the Refugee Act. Since then, communities across our country have welcomed the vulnerable, embracing them as new neighbors and championing their contributions to this American dream. On this anniversary, President Biden has an opportunity and moral imperative to continue the promise of this landmark legislation by righting the wrongs of the past four years and raising the current resettlement goal,” said Erol Kekic, Senior Vice President for the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service. “Since 1980 the resettlement program has been a beacon of hope for men, women and children seeking only to live lives free from fear, conflict and persecution. While the beacon dimmed under the Trump administration, the president has the chance to not only restore it to its former glory, but make it stronger than ever, today.” 

CWS notes that the harm caused by the President’s delay in signing a revised admissions goal cannot be overstated, with more than 700 flights canceled this month alone and fewer monthly refugee arrivals today than last year under the previous administration.

Since 1980 the United States has resettled over three million refugees across the nation. Those who arrived through the vital resettlement program have become part of American communities as neighbors, congregants, coworkers, business owners, community leaders, taxpayers, and elected leaders. Under the Trump administration, however, refugee admissions were severely cut, by over 80 percent, causing irreparable damage to refugee families, American communities, and the infrastructure in place to welcome and support new arrivals. 

“Here in America it’s very good. There is security; you feel safe and that you are somewhere where you can work for your dream,” said Bahati, a refugee resettled in Pennsylvania from the Congo, who spent 23 years in a Rwandan refugee camp and is currently separated from his sister. “That’s why it’s hard when you’re separated from your family—when they’re living a hard life and you’re living a better life.”

In addition to calling on the administration to raise the FY21 resettlement goal, CWS calls on Congress to, in commemoration of the anniversary, hold the administration accountable to rebuild the capacity to welcome refugees and put us on a pathway to resettle 125,000 refugees in FY 2022. Further, the United States can, and should, resettle refugees and welcome asylum seekers and unaccompanied children at the border. We have the resources, the capabilities, and most of all, the will to say yes to welcoming children and families with compassion and dignity.

Since 1946, Church World Service has supported refugees, immigrants and other displaced individuals, in addition to providing sustainable relief and development solutions to communities that wrestle with hunger and poverty. 

For more information or to speak with CWS, contact Christopher Plummer at