Lower Refugee Cap Could Impact Kansas Businesses, Resettlement Agencies

Sep 19, 2018

At least one Kansas business says the Trump administration's plan to further limit the number of refugees entering the country could hurt its operations.

Secretary of State of State Mike Pompeo announced on Tuesday a plan to cap the number of refugees entering the country at 30,000 next year. For the current year the cap was lowered to 45,000, though final admissions numbers will be about half that.

Some Kansas businesses rely on immigrant labor to do jobs that are otherwise difficult to fill. A low unemployment rate in Kansas has made that task harder.

The International Rescue Committee's office in Wichita.

"If you can sit in an office and make $15 versus being physically active in either a hot environment or cold environment, which we have both here, you might choose the office," said Doug MacKay, director of human resources at Creekstone Farms, a packinghouse in Arkansas City.

Around 2013, MacKay began work with the International Rescue Committee to hire refugees because he otherwise wasn't able to find the workers he needs.

"We simply cannot find enough labor," MacKay sais, "and this is a problem that's universal for manufacturing in the United States right now."

Further limits on the flow of refugees into the country could hurt Creekstone's ability, the company says, to hire all the workers it needs.

According to the resettlement agency the International Rescue Committee, during a busy year a few hundred refugees are relocated to the state.

"It's a really small number of individuals that we're talking about, it's not millions," said Michele Green, the executive director of the International Rescue Committee's Kansas programs. "But they do contribute a great deal to the community."

Early this year, the International Rescue Committee announced plans to shut down its Garden City office because of fewer refugees coming to Kansas.

"Clearly we downsize a little bit," Green said. "We've not serving as many clients."

Some organizations that assist refugees relocating in Kansas have been shifting more resources to helping immigrants that are currently living here, under the expectation of fewer new arrivals. The International Rescues Committe is expanding some services, such as assisting immigrants applying for permanent residency status or for citizenship. They said those applications more than doubled over the past fiscal year.

Other immigration support groups in Wichita expressed disappointment in the planned cap, which still needs to be formally set by a presidential determination. They say the state and the country can shelter more people fleeing crisis.

On Tuesday morning, the Immigration Family Support Network of Wichita discussed the Trump administration's plan during its regularly scheduled meeting. 

"It was very somber," said Mary Knecht, the moderator of the mission commission at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Wichita. "Some members of the group have already been meeting with our congressmen and unfortunately we're getting no encouragement of help from any of them."

Nadya Faulx contributed reporting to this story.

Stephan Bisaha, based at KMUW in Wichita, is an education reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.