An invitation to speak to a Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta crowd Friday morning, Feb. 17, provided J.D. McCrary an opportunity to clear up confusion about U.S. refugee resettlement in light of President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit the program.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I want to make sure people are informed,” McCrary, the executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta, said during Federation’s program in conjunction with the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies on the status of the resettlement program.
The event was held three weeks after President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769, stopping entry to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for 90 days, halting the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, barring Syrian refugees for an indefinite period, and cutting the cap on refugee admissions per fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000.
Restraining orders from federal courts, most recently upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 9, have prevented the enforcement of most of the order, which caused chaos at airports when it was first implemented.
But Trump was preparing a modified version of the order for release as early as Tuesday, Feb. 21, with the focus on the same seven countries but without the indefinite ban on Syrians and with clear protections for those with green cards, dual citizenship and existing visas.
The court actions did not stop the cut in annual refugee admissions. Trump’s order restored the cap that was in place until President Barack Obama raised it a couple of years ago. Because of the higher limit, 35,000 refugees were accepted before Trump’s order in fiscal 2017, so only 15,000 more may be admitted until Oct. 1.
Refugee resettlement had sustained bipartisan support since President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act in 1980. The Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies defines refugees as immigrants to America who are fleeing their homeland because of persecution.
All refugees seeking to enter the United States undergo a strenuous examination that takes 18 months to two years. In addition to being fingerprinted and going through in-person interviews, each refugee faces scrutiny from agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.
Europe does not have such a vetting process, so its problems are different in dealing with an influx of more than 1 million refugees from the Middle East, McCrary said.
Georgia, which is one of the 10 largest states, resettles 2,000 to 3,000 refugees every year, the nation’s ninth-highest total, meaning the state accepts refugees in proportion to its size, according to CRSA. The total will be lower under the Trump executive order.
Per CRSA, Georgia does not fund any programs specifically for refugees. The state serves as a pass-through for federal dollars, and all refugee money in Georgia’s state budget comes from the federal government.
Refugees may apply for permanent residency (green card) one year after arrival. They are eligible to become U.S. citizens four years later. The United States resettles those it deems most vulnerable and provides them a place to live, transportation, and a durable solution, which may entail a job and new skills. The selection is not always applied evenly, however, especially if foreign policy measures are involved.
“We must trust the vetting process and leave it up to U.S. government officials and agencies,” McCrary said.
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees also plays a role in the process by providing referrals to families and selecting communities that can support refugees.
DeKalb County will feel the most immediate economic impact from the reduction in refugee resettlement, McCrary said. High occupancy rates in apartments will decrease, fewer visits will be made to grocery stores, and anxiety will increase among refugees separated from their families or awaiting their green cards.
Multiple agencies under CRSA offer services for citizenship, including civic education and tutoring. McCrary said his agency has helped over 470 people become citizens and assisted 5,000 new Americans to register to vote. “We want to ensure that Georgia and the country remain welcoming to those seeking to enter the country. It is the core of our foundation as a nation of immigrants, and we want to ensure the Southern hospitality Georgia is known for holds true.”