- What are the changes to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program?
For FY 2018 (October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018), the Administration announced that it will cap refugee admissions at 45,000, the lowest number since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980. In comparison, last year’s cap was 110,000. The average cap since 1980 has been about 95,000. With a record high of over 65 million displaced people in the world currently, including 22.5 million refugees, this low ceiling greatly diminishes the U.S.’s commitment to provide protection at a time of unprecedented humanitarian crises worldwide.
In addition, during a 90 day “review period”, refugees from 11 countries will not be resettled in the U.S. unless they can show, on a case-by-case basis, that their resettlement would be in the national interest. The targeted countries are understood to be Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. As a practical matter, virtually no one will meet the “national interest” test.
Also, spouses and children reunifying with their spouses or parents already resettled as refugees in the U.S. (“principal refugees”) have historically had a slightly streamlined process compared to principal refugees. Now, the spouses and children will undergo a more complicated process, and will likely face significant delays to their reunification. Moreover, if these spouses and children are from any of the 11 countries listed above, they will not be able to join their principal refugee spouses and parents in the U.S. during the “review period” unless their admission can be shown to be in the national interest.
Finally, applicants for refugee resettlement will face heightened scrutiny, despite historically having been the most thoroughly vetted category of noncitizens coming to the U.S. New requirements include providing addresses going back 10 years, rather than the usual five, and providing email addresses and phone numbers of all members of their family tree, no matter where in the world these relatives are. People forced to flee wars or persecution often move frequently and live informally (without a fixed address) and in many cases may lose contact with members of their family. These new requirements, as a practical matter, may result in refugees who need and deserve resettlement being denied.
- How will this affect Maine’s businesses?
Maine is home to many immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Somali, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria. The FY2018 restrictions on refugee admissions will mean that Maine residents from these countries who were anticipating reuniting imminently with their family members still abroad, including their spouses and children, now face further separations and uncertainty about whether this will be the last delay. The other changes will prolong the family reunifications of refugees coming from other countries not on the list of eleven, as well.
Affected immigrants working in Maine will face great emotional and financial strain due to the postponed reunification with their loved ones. In addition, due to all of these changes, Maine will resettle hundreds fewer refugees than it has in recent years, at a time when we need to grow our population for the health of our communities and our labor supply.