CWS Celebrates Executive Action to Restore Life-Saving Refugee Resettlement Program

February 5, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 5, 2021     


Washington, D.C.—Church World Service today applauded efforts by the Biden administration to begin restoring the United States’ refugee resettlement program. In an important first step, last night’s executive order begins rebuilding this vital pathway for refugees and will lead to a more just, more compassionate, and more humane United States. Today’s executive action will improve the resettlement program’s efficiency and equitable treatment of refugees, strengthen access to the program for the most vulnerable refugees, and rescind harmful anti-refugee executive orders (EO 13888 and EO 13815).

“Today is a great day for refugee families seeking safety and the countless American communities who want to welcome them. Our resettlement program should be rooted in compassion and fairness, and today’s order is an important first step to ensuring that it is,” said Rick Santos, President and CEO of Church World Service. “While this is an important step, there is more to be done. The administration must now take additional action, by raising the refugee resettlement goal for this year and by rebuilding this vital system at home and abroad, so the United States can return to its role as a global humanitarian leader during this crisis.”

Yesterday afternoon, President Biden issued a fact sheet announcing that the administration would improve the operations of the resettlement program to allow the United States to reach a refugee admissions goal of 125,000 in the first full fiscal year of the Biden administration. President Biden also committed to raising the FY 2021 refugee admissions goal after appropriate consultation with Congress. This is a significant improvement over the Trump administration’s last admissions goal of 15,000, a historic low in the 40-year program.

CWS calls on the Biden administration to take additional steps to honor the U.S. legacy on resettlement by swiftly consulting with Congress and raising the current Fiscal Year 2021 refugee admissions goal, revising allocation categories that are leaving the most vulnerable in harm’s way, and investing in the domestic and overseas infrastructure that welcomes and processes refugees—and helps them integrate and thrive.

Today’s executive order additionally offered new principles as to how the U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP) will be guided moving forward and provides a series of directives as to how the capacity of the program will equitably, efficiently, and securely welcome refugees. It requires the administration to promptly consider ways to expand refugee vetting and adjudication capacity, address backlogs of refugee cases, and create senior-level positions to coordinate vetting agencies and refugee processing.

Previous executive orders, issued February 2nd, addressed ongoing concerns about the U.S. asylum system, focused on removing barriers and restoring trust in legal immigration, reuniting families, strengthening refugee and immigrant integration, and improving the path to naturalization.

Since the inception of the modern resettlement program through the Refugee Act of 1980, the annual bipartisan-supported admissions goal averaged 95,000. Yet, under the Trump administration, that goal plummeted, culminating in a FY2021 goal of 15,000—a historic low. Resettlement is the last resort for refugees who cannot safely return home or remain in the country where they first fled. In the midst of the worst global refugee crisis in history, the absence of a stable and well-resourced resettlement program would be deadly for those who have fled their homes due to violence and persecution and would signal an abdication of moral leadership for America on the international stage.

In response to today’s new executive order, resettled refugees in America commended the move as a return to a more humane and fair system.

“It warms my heart to be able to see and serve new refugees, we are not only celebrating their arrival to the U.S., but also celebrating their new lives here, their safety and dignity. We will work to welcome, support and encourage newly arriving refugees and the agencies serving them and enjoy seeing them reuniting with their families.”

-Marwa Al Ibrahim, Texas Refugee from Iraq

“Receiving more refugees is a great message to the world, and shows that America is standing with humanity and love”

-Nasser Alsadoon, Virginia, former Refugee from Iraq

Church World Service calls on the Biden administration and Congress to work together to introduce and pass the Refugee Protection Act to improve access and protection for refugees and asylum seekers.

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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. Learn more about our refugee and immigrant work at