MADISON – Jewish Social Services of Madison (JSS), Dane County’s only refugee resettlement agency, was hopeful they would welcome new families to the area soon after President Biden took office. On February 12th the Biden Administration released their ambitious plan to change refugee allocations and increase the limit to 62,500 people for FY2021.
However, two months later, the Trump Administration’s all-time-low ceiling of 15,000 refugees and restrictions which discriminate against certain refugees, particularly those from African and Muslim majority countries, remain in place. As countless refugees who were approved to resettle in the US and have waited for years, continue to wait, JSS has been working on getting the word out in order to urge President Biden to take action and allow for new arrivals. The White House has not provided information about why refugees cannot arrive, or when the policy will change.
On Sunday evening, JSS reached its biggest audience yet when client Gilbertine Harerimana was featured on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The show is a late-night talk and news satire television program. Oliver highlighted the US Refugee Resettlement Program and the confusing and spirit-breaking nature of Biden’s inaction on this matter. Harerimana, gave a heartfelt plea to President Biden to “help our friends who are struggling in the refugee camps” by signing the Presidential Determination which would allow resettlement to continue. As Oliver points out at the end of the piece, President Biden does not need to negotiate with Congress over this, the power solely rests with him.
Effectively, by not signing the new Presidential Determination, the number of refugees who have arrived in the US since October 1st, 2020 is less than one-third of those resettled by the same time last year. Locally, Jewish Social Services has not resettled a single person in more than six months. “Madison continues to demonstrate that it welcoming community. Staff and volunteers are ready to resettle people seeking refuge here as soon as President Biden signs his Emergency Presidential Determination,” says Dawn Berney, JSS Executive Director.