State Department Tells Refugee Agencies to Downsize U.S. Operations

Yeganeh Torbati, Mica Rosenberg, Reuters, December 21, 2017

The U.S. State Department has told refugee agencies it will sharply pare back the number of offices across the country authorized to resettle people in 2018 as President Donald Trump cuts the number of refugees allowed into the United States.

The announcement was made at a Dec. 1 meeting in Washington with State Department officials and representatives from nine major refugee agencies, several executives of the agencies said.

Advocates said the decision is likely to lead to the closure of dozens of resettlement offices around the country, potentially leaving some refugees without access to services that help them integrate into American life. Several state refugee coordinators said they had also been made aware of the closures.

Refugee resettlement in the United States is handled by nine non-profit agencies that receive funding from the federal government for some of their refugee work. They partner with, or oversee, hundreds of local offices in nearly every state that help new arrivals with basic tasks like enrolling children in school, arranging doctors’ visits and applying for Social Security cards and other documents.

Though the agencies are independent, they must get government approval for where they will resettle new refugees.

Aid workers and state officials involved in refugee resettlement said the agencies were informed by the State Department in the Dec. 1 meeting that offices expected to handle fewer than 100 refugees in fiscal year 2018 will no longer be authorized to resettle new arrivals, which means many of them will have to close. There are about 300 resettlement offices spread across 49 states, and advocates estimate several dozen are at risk, though shuttering plans will not be finalized until next year.

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Since taking office in January, Trump has moved to sharply reduce refugee admissions to the United States, because of national security concerns and a belief that money could be better spent resettling people closer to their original homes.

Soon after taking office, he slashed the 2017 U.S. refugee cap to 50,000 from the 110,000 ceiling set by Obama. In September, he announced a cap of 45,000 for 2018, the lowest number since the modern U.S. refugee program was established in 1980.

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