The White House has stated it will set the refugee admissions ceiling in FY 2020 at 18,000, an historic low since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, and dramatic reduction from FY 2016 when nearly 85,000 refugees were resettled. The official Presidential Determination has not been published at this writing.
But the White House also announced a new policy requiring consent from specific states and localities before any refugees will be resettled there. In practical terms, this means that locally, not only the State of Maine, but also Portland, Lewiston, Augusta, and any other Maine community that wants to resettle refugees must put that in writing to the federal government.
The White House has directed the government to develop a procedure for obtaining consent within 90 days. This virtually guarantees that no refugees will be admitted during the first quarter of FY2020 that begins on October 1, 2019. Any delays in implementing the new process could effectively result in far fewer than 18,000 refugees being resettled next fiscal year, at a time when there are a record nearly 26 million refugees globally who cannot return to their countries.
In Maine, this reduction comes when our communities and workforce are aging and shrinking and unemployment is at record lows. Refugees have been a steady source of new Mainers since 1980, but in recent years their numbers have plummeted. In FY 2016, about 650 refugees were resettled in Maine. In FY 2019, only 140 were. The administration’s new refugee limits and policies betray the nation’s values, and are economically short-sighted as well. Maine, and the U.S., needs refugees.
This fact sheet from the Pew Research Center highlights some key facts about refugee resettlement in the U.S. and changes to the program under the current administration, while reports describing refugee resettlement’s net economic benefits to the U.S. economy can be found here and in this more recent post from the Wharton School of Business.