America’s refugee program in danger of total collapse

Patricia Hatch writes in the Baltimore Sun that “The U.S. refugee resettlement program will live or die depending on the president’s decision on the refugee admissions ceiling for 2020. Reportedly he may set the ceiling at zero, terminating nearly 40 years of this humanitarian program, which has been a lifeline for the persecuted and our nation’s most compelling remaining claim to any moral leadership in the world.

Refugee resettlement, like all human services, happens at the local level. Every local organization has a bottom line below which it cannot support staff and operate effectively. The FY 2019 national ceiling of 30,000 refugees (by far the lowest in the program’s history), when distributed to resettlement organizations around the country, was so far below sustainability that dozens of local resettlement organizations had to close.

Scores of other local resettlement offices are barely surviving, praying for a restoration of the program to more traditional levels starting Oct. 1st, so they can continue to assist newly arrived refugees to become self-sufficient, productive members of their new communities. If the ceiling is set at last year’s level or lower, the infrastructure for serving refugees (and SIVs) is very likely to collapse.

In July, many leading evangelicals wrote to the president asking him to reinvigorate the U.S. refugee resettlement program to historic levels. In August, another group of more than 500 faith leaders urged an admissions ceiling of no less than 95,000. A few weeks ago, 172 national, state and local government officials recommended the same. Several dozen businesses in Michigan wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a similar plea. Last week, many of our most respected retired military generals and admirals wrote the president urging him to resettle 95,000 refugees in the year starting Oct. 1st.”


Author Patricia Hatch retired as program manager of the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees. She is the founder of FIRN, a nonprofit that helps foreign-born individuals access community resources and opportunities.

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