The past several months have been chaotic for groups that help resettle families in the U.S. As a result, Texas has resettled drastically fewer refugees this year than it has in previous years.
“2017 has probably been one of – if not the – craziest years in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program, which has been around for decades,” says Aaron Rippenkroeger, president and CEO of Refugee Services of Texas.
Before courts struck them down, the Trump administration’s travel bans put a wrench in a lot of plans for resettling people who were either in transit or within days of coming to the U.S.
The refugee program has a lot of moving parts, Rippenkroeger says, and sudden changes can upset a complex system.
“When you do attempt to make sudden adjustments to it, it can have a residual effect for years,” he says. “And that’s both for the program and the system itself, but many individuals that may be impacted permanently.”
The administration also capped the number of people allowed to go through the resettlement program in the coming years to basically half of what the Obama administration planned.
According to recent numbers from the Pew Research Center, more than 1,000 refugees resettled in Texas last October. In April, just 353 people did.
“The program is smaller right now,” Rippenkroeger says.
Qahtan Mustafa was a translator in Iraq for the U.S. military and later resettled in Austin. He now works with Refugee Services of Texas to help place refugees into jobs here.
Mustafa, who went through the same process several years ago, says recent changes to the program are felt by everyone, including employers hoping to hire incoming refugees.
“We were averaging like 60 to 70 clients probably a month, and this number went down to 30 … or something like that,” he says.
Mustafa says the drastic drop in resettlements is troubling because the need hasn’t decreased. Just a few days ago, he says, there was another bombing in Baghdad that killed a lot of people.
“If we just look at the things that have taken place in the countries from where we receive refugees, it is very sad to see that numbers are dropped,” he says. “We could save people by letting them come to the United States.”
Rippenkroeger says the fact that the U.S. could be doing more, is not new.
“The United States even at its highest points is letting in a fraction of refugees as compared to other countries in the world,” he says, “and we do it very well.”
Last year, the State of Texas pulled out of the federal refugee program after a dispute with the Obama administration over background checks. Since then, groups like Refugee Services of Texas have been running the program.