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Immigrant and refugee policy update

New immigration and refugee resettlement issues have been in the news lately. When described by the media, sometimes it’s hard to grasp what these changes could mean to real people. but at JFCS, we see it first hand.

The first consequential change is that the total number of refugees to be admitted to the United States in 2020 will be reduced to 18,000, the lowest number since the program began in 1980, when America welcomed more than 200,000 refugees. This decision comes at a time when there are more refugees worldwide than at any time in history.

Refugees come through an onerous vetting process via the departments of State and Homeland Security. Most refugees have been displaced for years, sometimes decades. Various factors influence the number, like crises in foreign countries that create refugees, religion, countries of origin, and political policy of any given administration.

AT JFCS, each year we hear the number and try to think how it will affect the refugees we might resettle, and those here that we have come to know. Two immediate concerns emerge from 2020’s low number. One is that many already-vetted refugees expecting their final approval will have their hopes dashed.  Agencies that work with refugees overseas also worry that the people who had received final clearance and given up their housing and sold everything would now have no place to go back to.

In addition, some refugees here have completed processes to bring over family members – wives, children, parents – who now may have their approval revoked. (Read an October 30, 2019 article from The New York Times:These refugees escaped Congo, but Trump’s policies may strand loved ones, by  Zolan Kanno-Youngs.)

The next notable change is that all states and possible refugee resettlement location municipalities will have to provide a letter to the federal government refugee resettlement agency stating that they are willing to accept refugees for resettlement. In Pennsylvania, the Governor, Allegheny County Executive and Pittsburgh’s Mayor all believe that refugees are good for our communities, and have indicated they will provide letters. At this time it is unclear whether letters would be needed from the 129 individual townships in Allegheny County. JFCS sees this as a divisive policy that will limit the number of places refugees can live as some municipalities refuse to accept them.*

Policy-wise, immigrants are quite different than refugees, though of course both are newcomers. A new immigrant policy declared that immigrants who come to America must be able to prove they posess or have the means to obtain health insurance. This policy was stayed by the courts just last week. So was the start of the “public charge” policy we told you about in an earlier newsletter, that adds use of some public benefits to the list of factors that might disqualify some people from entry and/or citizenship.

We at JFCS get a close look at the effects these changes have on real people: separated families, hopes shattered, years of delay. At a time when refugees and immigrants worldwide need helpthe most, people who come to America to seek a better life are facing more and more roadblocks. Given numerous studies and community needs assessments that document the positive affect of refugees and immigrants in our country – economically and culturally – JFCS will continue to work to help welcome newcomers, not discourage them.


*This would apply only to the township or municipality where the refugee was first resettled. After arrival, refugees are free to move wherever they like.