Courts may have stymied
Monthly refugee arrivals have plummeted in all but four states in the current fiscal year, according to a report published Thursday by the Pew Research Center.
The study, based on analysis of U.S. State Department data, shows a decline in refugee arrivals from 9,945 in October to 3,316 this April.
“This decline has been felt by 46 of the 50 states, and only four states had a higher number of refugees in April 2017 than they had in October 2016,” said Phillip Connor, a Pew research associate. “What is significant here is that we had a decline nationally for the first five months straight of the fiscal year, which is the longest consecutive decrease on record.”
However, the figures in April were higher than in March.
An executive order signed this year by Trump limits the total number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to 50,000 this year. Implementation of the order — which was rolled out in January and updated in March after court challenges — is still stalled by legal proceedings. But if the regulation were to be enacted it would mean that a maximum of 7,586 additional refugees could be resettled through September, the end of the federal fiscal year.
The president’s order also calls for barring all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days unless their travel is formally approved by the State Department.
The Obama administration had wanted to increase the refugee intake from 85,000 to 110,000 this fiscal year.
California, Texas and New York resettled the most refugees in fiscal 2016, taking a combined total of 20,738 people, or about a quarter of the U.S. total, according to Pew data. So far this year, these states are among those that have seen the biggest drop in refugee arrivals, Connor said.
For example, 1,096 refugees were resettled Texas in October, but that number plummeted to 353 in April, according to the report. California and Arizona both had over 450 fewer refugee arrivals in April than in October. And the refugee intake for California this month was 249 as of Wednesday, Connor said.
Los Angeles County, a leading destination for refugees, resettled only 96 people in March, down from 242 in January, according to State Department data.
New York and Michigan, among the top four states for refugee resettlement last year, have also recorded “substantial drops in monthly refugee resettlement” this fiscal year.
Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana were the only states to register higher numbers of refugees in April than in October.
Experts said the U.S. had been on track to reach the Obama administration’s target of admitting 110,000 this fiscal year, taking in more than 25,000 refugees between October and December, according to the State Department.
But then came Trump’s executive order aimed at halting refugee resettlement and banning travel from seven (later six) Muslim-majority countries. Although federal courts halted the president’s executive order, the rulings did not affect the cap of 50,000 refugees. The result: the admission of refugees was reduced to a trickle.
Only 842 refugees entered the country the week after Trump signed first travel ban. Before that the U.S. was admitting about 2,000 refugees a week. That number subsequently declined to about 400 a week, but was increased to 900 in April, the State Department reported.
Later court orders on Trump’s second executive order on travel and refugees essentially lifted the 50,000-person cap. But the sluggish pace of resettlement remains.
State Department and Homeland Security officials have significantly cut down on interviews with would-be refugees, according to resettlement agencies.
“Interviews with refugee applicants are not happening as a rule anymore; it is happening as an exception,” said Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy with the Church World Service, a refugee resettlement charity. “After the first travel ban, we stopped seeing interviews being scheduled. People who were in the pipeline were being told their interviews were canceled, and we started seeing more of this and it emerged as a pattern.”
Human rights groups have decried the proposed closure of the U.S. border to refugees and blame Trump’s executive order for the decline in new arrivals, which they said was having a debilitating impact on those still wanting to come to the U.S.
“People are finding themselves really at a loss,” said Noah Gottschalk, a Washington-based senior humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam America. “They’re thrown back into limbo with the same sense of insecurity. Many had started believing that they were on their way to a better life in the U.S., and that hope has been fading as they have seen what is happening.”
Martin Zogg, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles, said the nongovernmental organization was “profoundly concerned about refugees who have to wait longer and suffer more deprivation while they wait to resettle.”
Zogg said the government’s stance on refugees was also causing anxiety among those already resettled in the U.S.
“There are reports of refugees being reluctant to apply for services that they are entirely eligible for because they don’t want anything to have a negative impact on their status here,” Zogg said.
The decline in the number of refugees is also negatively affecting organizations that assist the newcomers. “A lot of NGOs have had to lay off a significant number of staff,” said Gottschalk.
At least 300 personnel working for such resettlement agencies have been laid off nationwide, according to humanitarian officials.
Zogg said World Relief had suspended its resettlements in Orange Count and Catholic Charities had closed their offices in San Bernardino.
Just how many refugees might resettle in the United States this year is uncertain given the ongoing legal battles over Trump’s executive orders. But when Congress passed funding for refugee admission this month for this fiscal year, refugee agencies said, the lawmakers budgeted for 75,000 people — similar to previous years.
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