April 1st marked the halfway point in the federal government’s fiscal year and, so far, the United States has only admitted 10,548 refugees, placing it on track to fall far short of its already record low admission ceiling of 45,000 individuals. Resettlement workers and refugee advocates say that this is further evidence of the Trump administration’s deliberate efforts to sabotage the refugee resettlement system now and for years to come.
Indypendent “The program is being torn down from the top,” says Dr. Shelly Callahan, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center in Utica, which works to resettle refugees.
Since 1980, the president has set the cap on refugee admissions each fall for the fiscal year running from October to September. President Trump’s 45,000 person ceiling is the lowest ever, down from 110,000 during President Obama’s last year.
The number actually admitted rarely reaches the ceiling completely, but this year is among the worst in that regard, too. At the current rate, it will be only the third time since 1980 that actual admissions fell short of the ceiling by more than 50 percent, the other two times being immediately after 9/11, under George W. Bush.
Workers for the nonprofits that handle refugee resettlement claim the administration is deliberately slowing down the processing of cases as part of its effort to cause long-term damage to the country’s refugee resettlement infrastructure. In the past year, the administration has introduced time-consuming and unnecessary additional screening procedures. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an office of the Department of Homeland Security, has also reassigned “about 100” out of 197 Refugee Corps officers to the Asylum Division, according to a spokesperson.
While similar to each other in some ways, asylum officers do not conduct refugee interviews overseas, the first step in the lengthy and complex process by which individuals are approved for resettlement to the United States. With fewer refugee officers screening applicants overseas, the entire pipeline is slowed down, with dramatic effects.
The U.S. government works with nine private nonprofit organizations, known as voluntary agencies, to assign refugees to host communities around the United States. Voluntary agencies receive $2,125 in federal funding for each refugee they resettle and administer networks of local offices that provide services directly to the refugees.
In December, the State Department informed the voluntary agencies of its intention to close all local affiliate offices that are not projected to receive at least 100 refugees in fiscal year 2018.
Of the approximately 320 local officesAccording to a plan drawn up by the voluntary agencies and obtained by Reuters, some 74 offices are expected to be closed this year. Eleven new offices that were in the planning phase at the time will not be opening, although some of them may still be able to operate as sub-offices dependent on other offices for cases and funding.
In New York State, home to one of the largest immigrant and refugee populations in the country, the closures could hit the resettlement sector hard. The state has 23 resettlement offices, 12 of which Reuters says will be closing this year. As of March 31, New York State has only been assigned 652 refugees via the State Department, far from the number needed to maintain the existing network.
By throttling the pipeline, the State Department is creating the low numbers that it will then use to close offices in the name of cost-saving efficiency. It is also forcing staffing cuts at the agencies, whose funding depends on refugee arrivals. The layoffs and closures being engineered by the Trump administration will impact the refugee resettlement system for years to come.
In response to the Trump administration’s attacks, many Americans have rallied in support of the local resettlement offices in their communities. Shelly Callahan of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center says her organization received the most donations ever last year and there has been a surge in volunteers. But, she says, “The State Department is dismantling the program from the inside out. I can have all of Utica hit the streets in support, but it’s not going to change the fact that overseas processing has come to a halt.”
And so far in 2018, Trump has accepted only 11 Syrian Muslim refugees
VOX Trump’s Executive Order tasks the federal government with coming up with a new process to screen everyone hoping to immigrate to the US, one that requires each individual immigrant to prove she or he would be a “positively contributing member of society.”
The Trump administration is framing the executive order as a security measure: It is titled “Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.” But the restrictions it poses on refugees in particular are much broader than the actual security reforms it introduces.
The order has, both by design and due to predictable consequences, resulted in the US taking a fraction of the refugees it’s taken in the past couple of years. It also fundamentally alters the composition of who is able to come to the United States — showing, in many cases, the greatest skepticism and least openness to people form Muslim countries.
The Trump administration’s executive order presumes that the US needs to take longer reviewing refugee procedures in 2017 than it did after 9/11.
Even after the US resumes refugee admissions, it will happen at a slower pace. In part, this is intentional: Trump is using executive authority to reset the refugee quota from 110,000 for fiscal year 2017 (which is where Obama had set it) to 50,000.
Below are some of the many refugee resettlement agencies that are laying off staff and at risk of closing altogether.