The Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions: Its Significance and How It Might be Influenced

By LSSNCA Advocacy Associate, John Murphy

With the October 1st start of Fiscal Year 2021, and pursuant to the Refugee Act of 1980, the President must announce the Presidential Determination (PD) on the number of refugees to be admitted into the U.S. for the year. The PD is to be made only after appropriate consultation with the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. 

In a September 9th letter to the President, the Democratic leadership of those committees stated that to date there has been no consultation and none has been scheduled for this year, “We strongly urge you to restore our nation’s long-standing, bi-partisan tradition of providing safety to the world’s most vulnerable refugees.” 

The letter went on … “According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were more than 79 million people displaced worldwide at the end of 2019.  Within this amount are 26 million refugees, the highest number in history.  More than half of them are children.” 

The letter stated further, that … “Since enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980 the United States has set an annual admissions goal of 95,000.  The current year’s 18,000 ceiling, which is the lowest in the 40-year history of the program is wholly inadequate,” the leaders said. 

According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, “As a result of the Administration’s cuts in the ceiling since 2017 the U.S. is no longer the leader of the world in refugee admissions.  In Fiscal Year 2017 about 53,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S., an amount that reflects a temporary freeze on admissions that the Administration imposed shortly after taking office.  The next year the cap was set at 45,000, and the year after that it was 30,000.  By contrast in the last year (2016) of the previous administration 85,000 were admitted,” said the Pew researchers.

The Administration in a letter accompanying release of the Determination justified the reduction of the Fiscal Year cap to 18,000, citing the “urgent need to address border security and the humanitarian crisis caused by the surge of aliens seeking entry at the U.S. Mexico border and also to address the more than 1 million asylum cases.”  However as of September 11, 2020, only 9,772 refugees have been admitted in this Fiscal Year.

Since 2017 there are a number of ways that the Administration has restricted immigration.  They include the so-called “Muslim ban,” a series of Executive Orders that, although challenged in the courts have continuously upheld pursuant to the President’s protection of national security; an increased use of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of the Department of Homeland Security; ordering family separation at the southern Border; limiting entry due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and the attempted abolition of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  These have all contributed to chilling atmosphere for those seeking a safety and a new life in America.  They have further threatened the capacity of resettlement agencies to maintain the infrastructure to adequately and efficiently resettle those seeking admission. More info on the impacts of the Administration on immigration can be found on the National Immigration Forum’s website.

Historically, refugee resettlement has enjoyed wide bi-partisan support.  There is no reason that support shouldn’t continue.

What do advocates want? 

LSSNCA, along with nearly national, state and local organizations sent a letter dated August 31st to the President and Secretary Mike Pompeo which calls on the Administration to set a Fiscal Year 2021 ceiling of 95,000 on refugee admissions and to set that ceiling by the October 1st statutory deadline.  Failure to set the Determination by that date would mean that no admissions are authorized.

What can you do?

Contact your elected officials at the state and local level and urge them to communicate now to the Administration and Congress their support for the 95,000 level and urge that the Determination be issued on or before October 1st. You can also communicate this same message to the Administration and members of your Congressional delegation.  In each case remind them of the nation’s long-standing tradition of welcoming the stranger and exemplifies American values.  The 95,000 ceiling represents the average annual ceiling over the 40-year history of the resettlement program.  Also tell them about the positive impact refugees have had on your family, your community, and your faith community.

You can download the Advocating for Refugee Resettlement toolkit from our national partner agency, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), to learn more about the ways you can advocate for refugees this month and next.


You can directly support refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders arriving in the DMV by becoming a family co-sponsor through the LSSNCA Good Neighbor Partner (GNP) program, donating household items and furniture to newly-arrived families, and donating directly to our Refugee & Immigrants Services.

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