Mica Rosenberg, Reuters, February 14, 2018
Refugee resettlement agencies are preparing to shutter more than 20 offices across the United States and cut back operations in more than 40 others after the State Department told them to pare their operations, according to plans seen by Reuters.
The State Department has said the drop in refugee numbers, from the 110,000 ceiling set by the Obama administration to 45,000 for 2018, means the country no longer needs all of the 324 resettlement offices that were operating at the end of 2017. This year’s cap on refugees is the lowest since 1980.
The offices, run by private non-profit agencies that contract with the U.S. government, provide a range of services to refugees, from assisting them in finding housing and jobs, to helping them navigate banking, medical care, school enrollment and other complexities of life in America.
Opponents of the resettlement program say it is more costly to resettle refugees in the United States than it is to give aid to displaced people overseas.
Refugees can access services from the resettlement centers for up to five years after they first arrive, so the closures could potentially affect thousands of recent arrivals, said Robert Carey, who directed the Office of Refugee Resettlement under President Barack Obama.
While the size of the U.S. refugee program has fluctuated over the years, it has never seen an across-the-board cut to dozens of offices in such a short period of time, he said.
Van de Weerd said the cuts could make it difficult for the United States to ramp up refugee numbers in the future. “It took years to build up this capacity,” he said. “Once you break it down it’s not easy to build it up again.”
The only two resettlement offices in Louisiana would close, and the only office in Hawaii would have to sharply curtail its operations, according to the plans developed by the agencies.
While the one resettlement office in Hawaii will remain open for now to provide ongoing services, it will not accept any new refugees this year and as a result will receive far less in government funding to help refugees already living in the state, said Eskinder Negash, the acting head of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which partners with the Hawaii center.
The plans to shutter local offices were drawn up after a Dec. 1 meeting between State Department officials and representatives of the refugee agencies. The government told the agencies that offices expected to handle fewer than 100 refugees in fiscal year 2018 would no longer be authorized to resettle new arrivals.
In addition to the closures, 11 planned new offices, two in Washington State and others in places from New Mexico to Indiana, will not be opening their doors in 2018.
In January, 1,385 refugees were admitted, compared to 6,777 in the same month last year and 4,376 in January 2016, according to government statistics.