(RNS) — Daad Serweri had been waiting for five years to come to the United States as a refugee.
Having worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, he was eligible to come to the country on a Special Immigrant Visa. His work had made him a target for the Taliban, which now viewed him as “the eyes and ears of the troops,” he said.
But in January 2017, Donald Trump took office as president and signed an executive order temporarily suspending refugee admissions. In the years that followed, Trump continued to slash the number of refugees allowed into the country to historic lows.
And Serweri suddenly found himself in limbo.
He, his wife and their baby just had gotten their visa, he said, and “we worried (the order) might affect our visa, too, because you never knew at that time.
“It was completely in a kind of limbo type of situation for a lot of people like me and a lot of people that have been in worse situations,” he said.
Serweri and his family arrived in the U.S. in late February — finally exhaling as they made it through the airport, he said. He knows how lucky they were, how many refugees still were waiting in desperate situations.
Nearly four years later to the day, President Joe Biden has signaled an about-face in U.S. refugee policy.
On Thursday (Feb. 4), barely two weeks into his own presidency, Biden signed an executive order he said will “begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program,” positioning his administration to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. from 15,000 to 125,000 in its first full fiscal year. (By comparison, Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama set that number at 110,000 his last year in office.)
“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.
The heads of various faith-based groups involved in refugee resettlement praised the text of the order, posted online Thursday evening.