Refugee resettlement continues to face an uncertain future in the U.S. in 2020. The administration’s current and emerging policies have reduced the number of refugee arrivals to a historically low number and allowed state and local jurisdictions new roles in determining where refugees are resettled.
A Historically Low Ceiling
The Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2020, issued on November 1, 2019, established that the U.S. would admit a maximum of 18,000 refugees into the country. This policy represented another drastic reduction in the United States’ refugee admissions goal, which has on average exceeded 95,000 arrivals annually since 1980.
The United States Refugee Admissions Program sets the gold standard for refugee resettlement programs, providing protections for the world’s most vulnerable refugees. Over the last 40 years, the U.S. has successfully resettled nearly 4 million refugees in the country. Refugees have made countless contributions to communities across the country by working hard, paying taxes, buying homes, starting businesses and by enriching the national culture. The administration’s decision to drastically curtail refugee admissions for a third year in a row represents further damage to U.S. leadership in the world, is an unspeakable setback for refugees fleeing persecution, and damages communities across the country that rely on their hard work and entrepreneurship.
New Roles for State and Local Governments
The Executive Order (EO) on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement – issued by the President on September 26, 2019 – gives new, and arguably unconstitutional, rights to local and state governments to block refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions. The EO has required all nine resettlement agencies to acquire written consent from governors and city and county governments if they intend to resettle refugees in those states and local jurisdictions. The deadline for getting the required written consent letters was January 21, 2020. Failure to do so would jeopardize the ability of agencies like the IRC to resettle refugees in 2020 and beyond.
Over the last 4 months, governors from 42 states and over 100 city and county governments have provided written consent to acknowledge their willingness to welcome and resettle refugees! In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan, Baltimore City Mayor Bernard Young, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, City of Hyattsville Mayor Candice Hollingsworth, Town of Riverdale Park Mayor Alan Thompson and Town of Tacoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart have provided their consent to resettle refugees in the state and local jurisdictions!
On behalf of the International Rescue Committee in Maryland – both the staff and the clients we serve – I would like to extend my gratitude to all these leaders for taking a bold public stance in support of refugee resettlement. By providing consent to resettle refugees, these leaders have certified Maryland’s history and future as a welcoming state to the world’s most vulnerable. The IRC is equally disappointed that the state of Texas has said no to resettlement and that six other states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Wyoming – have remained silent on the issue.
While resettlement agencies were busy getting state and local consent letters, on January 15 a federal court in Maryland temporarily halted the EO allowing state and local governments to block refugees from arriving in their jurisdictions. The IRC welcomes this ruling, which recognizes that this harmful and unnecessary administration policy would have further burdened refugees who were granted the right to rebuild their lives in the U.S. and contribute positively to our communities. The court ruling further recognizes that the government did not have legal grounds to delegate resettlement decisions to states, cities, and counties.
It is likely that the Trump administration will appeal the decision by the Maryland court and continue to raise the level of uncertainly for refugee resettlement in 2020. However, what is certain is that the IRC will continue to stand with the refugees we serve, the families who desire reunification, and the communities that are eager to welcome them. The IRC in Maryland has resettled over 12,000 refugees in the state since 1999 and we will continue to do so with the support of the community.