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Kansas Refugee Agencies Brace For Lower Admissions Cap

Nadya Faulx
KMUW/File photo
A stack of ESL books at the International Rescue Committee office in Wichita.

Refugee agencies in Kansas are bracing for a historically low admissions cap in the coming year.

The U.S. Department of State released a report last week indicating 15,000 refugees and Special Immigrant Visa recipients will be allowed in the country in FY 2021, down from last year’s cap of 18,000.

"I can’t say that this determination is shocking considering we’ve seen the numbers over the last four years fall year over year," says Angela Smith, vice president of International Ministries at St. Francis Ministries in Kansas.

"What I would say is that it continues to disappoint those of us who are committed to resettling refugees in the United States and here in Wichita."

In 2019, 407 refugees were resettled in Kansas; this past fiscal year, that was down to 104, largely because COVID-19 halted all resettlement efforts globally for several months.

The admission ceiling hovered between 80,000 to 85,000 under the Obama administration; a collective of refugee agencies and other nonprofits wrote a letter to the Trump administration earlier this year urging it to set the new cap at 95,000.

"The United States, for decades, for many decades, were leaders on refugee resettlement,” Smith said. "In 2017 and 2018, we fell to the back of the pack."

Because St. Francis voluntarily paused its own resettlement efforts earlier this year to focus on other services, Smith says the low proposed admissions cap won’t have an immediate impact on the organization. But, she says declining numbers could eventually threaten the nine agencies that serve refugees in the U.S.

"Like we saw a lot of affiliates and organizations struggle last year to keep their doors open, this year it’s going to be even harder," she said. "When you dismantle systems that took decades to build, it’s really hard to rebuild them."

In its report to Congress, the State Department notes that the "President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic." 

The number won’t be officially set until President Donald Trump makes his presidential determination. Even then, it could change depending on the outcome of next month’s election.

Michele Green, director of the International Rescue Committee in Wichita, says she doesn’t expect that to happen before Nov. 3. Cases are still being assigned, but until there’s a determination, no resettlement is taking placeuntil at least Oct. 26.

Green says for now, the IRC is holding internal meetings to plan for different scenarios "to be in a position to adapt as needed, one way or another."

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.