Human rights organizations welcomed President Joe Biden's executive order Thursday significantly raising the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country.
"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that's precisely what we're going to do," Biden said Thursday.
"How quickly and how comprehensively we are able to welcome our new neighbors will decide just how bright our future can be."
—Bob Goodfellow, Amnesty International USAFormer President Donald Trump—whose administration was marked by xenophobic policies—set the ceiling for refugee admissions at a record low 15,000, a move that elicited fierce criticism from rights groups.
Biden announced his intention to raise the cap to 125,000, called for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) to "be rebuilt and expanded," revoked Trump's orders blocking refugee resettlement, and directed federal agencies to look into climate-related impacts on refugees and displacement.
According to Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel for the ACLU, the order reflects "a marked and promising shift from the Trump administration's callous disregard for human life and hatred for refugees—most of whom are Black and Brown immigrants, including Muslims."
"However," Waheed added, "we know that for this announcement to be fully realized, there is a lot of work to do."
After being "decimated" by the previous administration, she said, the nation's refugee system "must be rebuilt fairly, effectively, and efficiently to fulfill its legal and moral responsibilities so people can seek safety in the United States per our immigration laws."
Refugees International president Eric Schwartz also welcomed the order, saying it "recognizes the importance of a program that saves lives, unites families, and contributes so much to American life."
The Trump term was "slashing... refugee resettlement numbers in the United States even as global refugee numbers continued to climb," said Schwartz. He expressed hope Biden's announcement would be the first of "many contributions to rebuilding the refugee resettlement infrastructure in the United States and restoring the leadership of the United States in support and protection for refugees.”
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Today is a good day.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 5, 2021
For years I fought to make sure more refugees are given an opportunity at a new and promising life and today I feel hopeful.
Even in the most challenging days, I learned in that refugee camp, not to lose hope and I can’t wait to welcome these new refugees. https://t.co/J7V2SO2QZ7
Bob Goodfellow, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA, looked ahead at broader changes still needed to strengthen refugee protections.
"The question today before a new administration and a reorganized Congress... is about the lives, well-being, and human rights of people around the world and about our shared future together. How quickly and how comprehensively we are able to welcome our new neighbors will decide just how bright our future can be," said Goodfellow.
He also called on the U.S. government to "invest in our shared future including [through] humanitarian programs, family reunification, a private sponsorship model, and expanded community involvement in resettlement through robust promotion of other community sponsorship programs."
"The United States must take the first step forward together," he continued, "though acceptance of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees referrals, request additional funds from Congress to allow for increased refugee admissions, and provide financial support to international organizations working to address refugees' needs and rights."
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, for his part, put the impact of Biden's order in clear terms.
"The action today by President Biden will save lives," he said in a statement Thursday. "It's that simple."
The Thursday order follows a number of other immigration-related actions the Biden administration has taken in its first month, including creating a task force to help reunify families separated under Trump's "zero tolerance" policy and recission of the Muslim ban.