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Drop In Refugee Arrivals May Force U.S. Resettlement Offices To Close


Dozens of refugee resettlement offices in the U.S. may be forced to close soon. These are places that get funding from the government to help new arrivals enroll their kids in school, arrange doctor's visits and get their immigration papers in order. The Trump administration has announced it is cutting back the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to a historic low of 45,000. But the actual number of refugees coming in now is even lower than that.

MATTHEW SOERENS: If you look at the arrivals for the first quarter of the fiscal year, there's only been about 5,300 refugees who have been allowed to come in. If that pace continues and doesn't increase pretty drastically, we won't hit even half of that 45,000 refugee goal as a nation.

CHANG: That's Matthew Soerens at World Relief, a nonprofit that's one of the main resettlement agencies in the U.S. The State Department has reportedly said that any office expecting to handle fewer than a hundred refugees this year must close. World Relief has already closed five offices in recent months after anticipating a drop in their caseload and government funding.

SOERENS: I worry that we're actually seeing that infrastructure to resettle and to integrate refugees decimated by some of these policy decisions. We can't just turn that back on again overnight and say we're going to rehire all these people; we're going to reopen offices. That can't happen quickly.

CHANG: There are 300 resettlement offices in the U.S. in nearly every state. One of their major functions is to reunify new arrivals with family members already in the U.S. And Soerens says his agency thought about that as it pared down its operation.

SOERENS: We only closed in locations where there was at least one other resettlement agency so that there would be another agency able to do family reunification. But as more and more offices have to close with some of these new rules, it's possible we could have communities where there isn't a resettlement agency in the community anymore. And that will make family reunification much more difficult.

CHANG: World Relief, where you work, is an evangelical charity organization. And President Trump has had very strong support in the evangelical community. I'm curious. Have you found some of your evangelical supporters, your donors - have you found that they've taken a different view from the White House's refugee policies?

SOERENS: Most certainly - if you look at polling, evangelicals are quite split on their views of refugees. I think we tend to have the support of the - you know, of the significant portion of American evangelicals. Now, I wouldn't claim that we speak on behalf of all evangelical Christians in the United States. We clearly don't. But I would say right now we have more churches who want to welcome refugees than we have refugees arriving.

CHANG: The rules around refugee admissions have changed a lot the last year. We've seen executive orders. We've seen the courts come in. How has all that uncertainty affected the resettlement process?

SOERENS: Among the people who we serve - refugees who've been resettled already who are no longer refugees, who are, in some cases, now U.S. citizens - they are worried about their family members back in places where they are actively being persecuted or where they have fled persecution. They're now in a camp, and they've been in a camp for decades, in some cases. And they want to know, you know, will they still be able to come? They were in this process. They've been being vetted for years. And they were being told they were - you know, they were in line to be resettled. So you do ask, will still be able to come? We can't make the promise that that person will be allowed to be resettled. And that's incredibly difficult.

CHANG: That's Matthew Soerens of World Relief. Thank you very much.

SOERENS: Thanks so much, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "LANGUAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.