Refugee children at soccer game

Two refugee children pause to watch a soccer game at Fort Missoula in 2017.

U.S. refugee resettlement agencies are lashing out at news the Trump administration is considering another drastic cut to refugee admissions, or eliminating them altogether.

The news organization Politico reported Thursday that a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representative has suggested setting the cap at zero. The official is “closely aligned with White House immigration adviser Stephen Miller,” the report said.

The International Rescue Committee, which opened Montana’s only resettlement office in Missoula in 2016, said a goal of zero admissions “will shock the conscience of millions of Americans.”

In Missoula, refugee arrival numbers have remained fairly steady, though the International Refugee Committee’s agreed-upon annual resettlement numbers have gone from 125 in 2016 to 100 today. Roughly 300 refugees, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Syria, have been resettled in Missoula.

“We won’t know what the impact will be just yet on our arrivals if the Presidential Determination reduces the number to zero, but the local impact will be devastating for Missoula’s refugee families who are waiting to be reunited with loved ones,” said Jen Barile, resettlement director in the Missoula IRC office.

The decision would also have an negative impact on the Missoula community as a whole, Barile said. “We’ve seen refugees here start businesses, fill needed gaps in employment and become part of the fabric of Missoula. They are our neighbors, our friends and our colleagues, and they bring diversity and unique skills and experiences to our city.”

"This number is shocking and horrible and so so so so against America's strong history of giving life-saving help to some of the world's most vulnerable," Soft Landing Missoula said on its Facebook page Friday afternoon.

The Soft Landing post urged people to call Rep. Greg Gianforte at his Washington office and ask him to support and co-sponsor the GRACE Act, which would establish the annual refugee admissions level at no less than 95,000, restoring admissions to historic norms. 

At last week's security meeting where the zero cap was proposed, Homeland Security Department officials floated numbers of “anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000,” according to one of three Politico sources.

The developments come after the Trump administration slashed the refugee admissions cap by a third this year, from 45,000 to 30,000. It’s the lowest ceiling since the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed by Congress. The annual target averaged 95,000 refugees from around the world since then.

“If confirmed, this decision is catastrophic for some of the most vulnerable people for whom resettlement is a life-saving last resort,” IRC vice president Hans Van de Weerd said in a statement released Thursday evening. 

“An admissions goal of zero would be another low in a global race to the bottom led by an Administration that has introduced travel bans, illegal asylum procedures, family separations, child detention, and is now proposing to abandon a rich American tradition of providing safety and opportunity,” Van de Weerd said. “These policies have caused unspeakable suffering for people most in need of protection.”

Many of the other eight federally funded resettlement agencies issued similar statements.

“Should the administration decide that the U.S. will no longer resettle refugees, it will be a full abdication of our role as the world’s humanitarian leader in refugee protection — a role the U.S. has held since World War II,” said the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants joined other agencies in calling on the Trump administration to raise, not lower, the target “in the best interests of the American people and our historical role and tradition in welcoming the stranger.”

Consequences of reducing or zeroing out admissions next year will have “considerable reverberations both domestically and globally, negatively affecting both our economy and our national security,” said a statement from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. 

Politico reporter Ted Hesson said the possible shutdown or near-shutdown is alarming Department of Defense officials, “who don’t want to see a halt in admission of Iraqis who risked their lives assisting U.S. in that country.”

Hesson said a recent State Department report indicated nearly 9,000 refugees are currently approved to travel to the U.S., and more than 29,000 have completed the major step involving U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Refugee arrivals in 2018 were fewer than half the 45,000 cap. The U.S. is on pace this year to resettle roughly 28,000. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and the administration’s cap will be released in September.

In a tweet on Friday, Hesson said Aug. 1 is a date to watch. That’s when departments are supposed to make internal refugee cap recommendations.

Hesson’s report called last week’s meeting at the White House a preliminary step in the annual process of setting the admission cap.

He identified John Zadrozny of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as known Miller allies who argued for a low refugee cap “because of ongoing security concerns and the ability of the U.S. to offer humanitarian protections through the asylum process,” according to an attendee.

Refugees are those from overseas who seek protection by completing a screening process. Proponents of the program argue that beyond its humanitarian goals it offers the U.S. diplomatic and military leverage internationally, Hesson wrote.

Asylum seekers apply for protection once they’ve arrived at the border or entered the U.S. on a legal visa. The Trump administration this week issued a sweeping regulation that is already the subject of two lawsuits that would block migrants from seeking asylum if they pass through another country en route to the U.S.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian