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CNSI Letter to President Biden: Raise the Refugee Ceiling Now

April 21, 2021

Press Release

April 21, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden 
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear President Biden,

We are writing in response to your administration’s recent decision to maintain the historically low refugee cap of 15,000 with the expectation that you will increase it by May 15, 2021. We are deeply disappointed that U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has not yet been fortified, and we encourage your Administration to be more transparent and forthcoming with information regarding increases to the USRAP.

The dismantling of the USRAP over the last four years under the false pretense that refugee resettlement is incompatible with national security has been heartbreaking. While we appreciate that your administration is struggling with addressing the current situation at the southern border, we urge you to move swiftly to admit pre-approved refugees because they are not a security threat. We believe, as you do, that a robust USRAP – which operates in accordance with rigorous security vetting procedures – is vital to our national security.

We recognize there is much work to be done to restore the USRAP, but USRAP partners overseas and within the United States are limited in what they can do to rebuild their infrastructure until you sign the Presidential Determination expanding the refugee ceiling. We urge you to act quickly to raise the ceiling to 62,500 this fiscal year, en route to a more robust number in 2022. The longer we wait to address the backlog of vetted and approved refugees – let alone the growing number of displaced persons worldwide – the greater the long-term risk to our national security. We also recommend that you couple this announcement with a clear message that the southern border remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to deter migrants from making the perilous trek to the United States and ensure lawful, orderly processing of the most vulnerable.

As former officials who served previous presidents in national security positions, we understand the importance of American leadership in global affairs and the need for policies that promote our democratic values. For generations, the United States has exhibited both strength and compassion by serving as a haven for those seeking freedom of opportunity, expression, and religion. In welcoming the most vulnerable, the United States has led by example and encouraged other nations to do the same.

We acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic presents significant challenges for rebuilding the USRAP and resettling refugees in the United States. While travel restrictions remain for many parts of the globe, we have learned how to manage the risks posed by international travel through testing and quarantining before and after travel. Those techniques could be adopted by the Departments of State and Health and Human Services. A plan for how refugees will safely transit to, and resettle in, the United States should be communicated to the public as soon as possible. Further, thanks to your Administration’s leadership, we will soon be in a position to offer vaccines to resettling refugees prior to their departure or upon arrival. By raising the refugee ceiling – which informs the funding and resources allocated to resettlement agencies – you will allow resettlement service providers to prepare both structurally and financially for future arrivals. We believe the Administration must be both transparent and collaborative to meet this challenge head-on.

We also acknowledge the tremendous challenge posed by the surge of migrants on the southern border, and that some of the agencies responsible for serving and integrating refugees – the Office of Refugee Resettlement in particular – are also responsible for the care of unaccompanied children seeking asylum. As former government officials, we understand that we do not have access to all of the information that you possess. When we met with your staff last month, they asked for patience and rightly noted the many complexities your Administration inherited. We appreciate that the task to rebuild the USRAP is significant, and we understand that signing the Presidential Determination does not fix the capacity challenges.

In your inaugural address, you promised to “always level with [us].” Transparency with the public and the many participants in the USRAP is needed. We are hard-pressed to imagine a reason why the ceiling should not be raised immediately; but, if there is, in your judgement, a sufficient reason, we ask you to level with the American people and share your plan to address these capacity challenges and restore the refugee program as promised during the campaign and your transition.

The United States cannot wait any longer to resume its humanitarian leadership by welcoming the most vulnerable refugees in a manner that is consistent with our national security interests and our democratic and humanitarian values, and demonstrates a posture of inclusion and opportunity that contrasts with our authoritarian adversaries. The United States is the world’s best hope for opportunity and freedom. We look forward to working with you to ensure that remains the case for future generations.


Barbara Comstock
Former Member of Congress (R-VA), Virginia’s 10th District

Marc Frey
Former Chief of Staff, Office of Policy Development, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

John Mitnick
Former General Counsel, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Michael Neifach
Former Principal Legal Advisor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of 

Homeland Security

Elizabeth Neumann
Former Assistant Secretary of Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Paul Rosenzweig
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

C. Stewart Verdery Jr.
Former Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy and Planning, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Jim Williams
Former Director, US-VISIT Program, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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