Trump slashes refugee cap, local resettlement agencies feel impact

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minnesota, on Sept. 30, 2020. During the rally, Trump attacked refugees, including Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/TNS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2020 7:27:49 PM
Modified: 10/11/2020 7:27:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Along with unleashing a spate of xenophobic attacks on refugees, earlier this month President Donald Trump moved to further slash the country’s annual cap on refugee admissions to a record-low 15,000 in this new fiscal year.

That number is not much less than the already record-low number cap Trump set the previous year — 18,000 — and is significantly down from the 110,000 cap President Barack Obama approved in 2016. Throughout his presidency, Trump has further restricted immigration and refugee resettlement amid racist rhetoric, and local refugee advocates say that the administration’s latest move continues that precedent.

“The ramifications are fairly serious,” said Diane Palladino of the Pioneer Valley Interfaith Refugee Action Group.

Palladino described the Trump administration’s policies as seeking to have as close to zero immigration to the country as possible. And as Trump pursues that agenda, local efforts to resettle refugees are stymied, she said.

There are three local agencies that resettle refugees in the Pioneer Valley — Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Service of Western Mass and Ascentria Care Alliance. Efforts to reach those three agencies on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Palladino said that the Trump administration has not only lowered the cap on legal immigrants and refugees allowed into the country, but that his administration has made the entire process much more difficult, meaning even fewer people get approved than the cap.

Despite an 18,000-person cap during the previous fiscal year, the country only welcomed 11,000 refugees last year.

“A number of things happen once the refugee is ‘assigned’ to the United States,” Palladino said. “What Trump has done is he has eviscerated that process.”

Refugee resettlement organizations receive substantial funding from the federal government for their work. Because of the lower number of refugees entering the country, those agencies are now experiencing a significant strain on resources, Palladino said.

“They can’t sustain all of their staff,” she added.

In addition to the cap restriction, Trump also proposed to Congress that the U.S. not admit refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen, with few exceptions.

The United States conducted more airstrikes in Somalia during the first seven months of this year than the country did during the entire decade between 2007 and 2017. The U.S. also bombed Syria this year and continues to provide intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen — which has helped fuel what UNICEF has called the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Trump has gone after refugees at campaign rallies and elsewhere, including launching racist attacks on one of the country’s most famous refugees — Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the first-ever Somali-American Muslim woman lawmaker elected in U.S. history.

“Another massive issue for Minnesota is the election of Joe Biden’s plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees,” Trump said at a recent rally in Minnesota, where he also took jabs at Omar. “Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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