POLITICS
12/22/2017 01:57 pm ET

State Department Told Some Refugee Offices They Should Plan To Close Next Year

The added changes "amount to dismantling the refugee program piece by bits," said Jen Smyers of Church World Service.

In yet another knife to the heart of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, the State Department alerted the nine domestic resettlement agencies that they should expect to shut down some of their local offices in 2018 in response to the historically low number of refugees arriving in the country.

State met with representatives from the nine agencies on Dec. 1 and said its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) will no longer authorize resettlement offices to operate if they expect to handle fewer than 100 cases in fiscal year 2018. It also plans to discontinue funding to any local offices that are managed by two different resettlement agencies. 

“The changes will consolidate smaller affiliates, reduce costs and simplify management structures to help the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program run in a way that is fiscally responsible and sustainable in the long term,” a State Department official said in a statement. “Consistent with past practice, PRM intends to provide a guaranteed level of administrative funding for local affiliated agencies to maintain national resettlement capacity.”

Between the nine agencies, about 300 resettlement offices large and small are spread across almost all 50 states, according to Reuters. The amount of funding the government doles out is contingent upon the number of refugees each organization resettles.

These local offices are responsible for shepherding refugees in their first few months in the United States, fulfilling tasks that range from picking them up at the airport to finding them housing, helping them enroll their children in school and assisting them in finding work. They also teach refugees the basics of life in the U.S. ― things Americans may take for granted like how to use public transportation, write a check or shop for groceries. Many offices also help with English courses, employment readiness and financial literacy.

Jen Smyers, the director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service, one of the nine resettlement organizations, told HuffPost that State is allowing the agencies to play around with their numbers in the coming months in order to minimize office closures. 

“We’re trying to make sure that we can try to have at least one office open in every state or in every main area,” she said.

But local closures will impact the resettlement system as a whole, she warned, using the example of family reunification to explain her point. If a refugee in a small town is petitioning to bring a relative to the U.S., that relative can’t be resettled in the same town if the local office shuts down.

It becomes “a matter of getting here and turning right around and going somewhere that may not have the services that would enable them to succeed,” Smyers said.

The move represents yet another incremental step the Trump administration has taken to dismantle the refugee resettlement program, Smyers said. The three attempted travel bans aside, President Donald Trump set the refugee cap for fiscal year 2018 at 45,000, the lowest level it’s ever been. He also placed added restrictions on the system in October, including a a 90-day review of procedures and security in 11 Muslim-majority countries and a pause on the program that allows refugees to petition to bring over family members.

“I think it was very intentional that the administration made those changes,” Smyers said. “They may seem like minor changes but they really amount to dismantling the refugee program piece by bits. It’s death by a thousand cuts. When we look at the 11 countries that are banned, those amount to a significant portion of the refugees who we’re planning to resettle this year.”

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