The Catholic Church is urging President Biden to accept a lot more refugees

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A Jesus on the cross is seen as Catholic priests of Saint Charles Missions from Latin America, the US and Canada gather to pray at the US-Mexico border fence in solidarity to migrants and against hate and indifference, in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on July 4, 2019.

  • Bishop Mario Dorsonville scolded Biden for not immediately raising the cap on refugee admissions.
  • “The number of refugees who will be welcomed this year is far short of what we can do as a country,” he said.
  • This year’s admissions cap is 15,000, although the Biden administration says it will raise it soon.
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President Joe Biden may attend mass every Sunday, but when it comes to welcoming more refugees he has thus far been a disappointment to the Catholic Church.

Biden campaigned on establishing a more humane immigration system, promising, in particular, to restore a refugee resettlement program that had been systematically gutted by his predecessor. Soon after taking office, the first Catholic in the White House in more than 50 years announced plans to resettle as many as 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2021, which begins October 1.

But last week the Biden administration disappointed immigrants and their allies when it informed Congress it was not committed to raising the ultra-low cap on refugee admissions set by the last White House. Left unchanged, just 15,000 people, at most, would be resettled by the end of the current fiscal year. For comparison, the US admitted over 200,000 refugees in 1980.

Bishop Mario Dorsonville, head of the US Conference on Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Monday the country can do a lot more to help the world’s most vulnerable

“The number of refugees who will be welcomed this year is far short of what we can do as a country and is not an adequate response to the immense resettlement need,” Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop in Washington, DC, and himself an immigrant from Colombia, said in a statement.

The church frequently clashed with former President Donald Trump. US bishops accused him of seeking to “instigate panic in our communities” with mass deportations, and describing his efforts to practically eliminate refugee resettlement – he launched racist attacks on Somali refugees who had already come, while his adviser, Stephen Miller, advocated slashing admissions to zero – as “counter to our values as a nation of immigrants.”

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services is one of nine nonprofit organizations that partner with the US government to meet the needs of refugees who arrive in the country. Those seeking protection from war and repression deserve compassion and assistance, it teaches, citing the “mercy of Christ, who himself was a immigrant and child of refugees.”

‘Shocked and disappointed’

Faith leaders were aghast, then, at hearing the new administration suggest it might embrace continuity on refugees, at least for now, with Protestants joining Catholics in denouncing the status quo.

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, an Evangelic Christian group that helps resettle refugees, said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the news. By “embracing President Trump’s historically low refugee ceiling,” he said in a statement, “President Biden is betraying his commitment to build back better.”

The White House heard the uproar. Hours after appearing content to stay put, the Biden administration put out a statement reiterating that it does not plan to stick with the last administration’s refugee policy forever; it will announce a new admissions cap for the rest of this year in the coming weeks, it said. But because the resettlement program was decimated by the last administration, spokesperson Jen Psaki lowered expectations for how many will be admitted this year, walking back an earlier goal of more than 62,000.

The Catholic Church, however, is urging the administration to go big.

“We expect the administration to recalibrate and raise this ceiling,” Bishop Dorsonville said, pointing to the “unprecedented number of refugee families seeking new homes after being persecuted for religious, political, and other reasons.” The church, he added, is in fact “disappointed that it has not done so yet.”

It is not the only area of immigration policy where Biden has disappointed some Catholics. Asylum-seekers, too, have generally experienced more of the same during the first few months of this presidency. Biden has allowed unaccompanied minors to enter the US, in contrast to a predecessor who kept them on the other side of the border.

But he has otherwise maintained his predecessor’s closed-door policy, asylees included, citing a lack of infrastructure to process new arrivals, as well as the public health risk posed by increased admissions during a pandemic.

“There is an expectation that Biden would have more humanitarian policies at the border,” Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, a Catholic group that assists migrants, recently told the Jesuit magazine America. “In practice, however, that has not happened.”

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