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How Trump's Refugee Cap Affects Kentucky Resettlement Agencies

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President Trump will allow 45,000 refugees to enter the country during the 2018 fiscal year, which began October 1. That’s the lowest number of refugees allowed in the country since the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980.

For fiscal year 2017, former President Obama set the number of refugees allowed at 110,000 — although in reality, nowhere near that number entered the U.S. during that period.

This year’s 60 percent drop in the allowable number of refugees will affect those who can enter the country -- as well as those who are already here, said Maria Koerner, assistant director of the Kentucky Office of Refugees with Catholic Charities.

“For agencies like Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries, they’re dealing with some loss of staff and infrastructure but even with that, their doors are going to remain open," she said. "They’ll still be providing services for those who are already here, they’ll still be welcoming new arrivals but less of them."

Decreased federal financial support means some staff at resettlement agencies have either had their hours reduced or have been laid off. Koerner said many of those staff members are resettled refugees.

“The agencies do hire a lot of people that formally came to the refugee program,” she said. “So they are multilingual usually, and multicultural, and really help with welcoming new arrivals.”

Those who have already been resettled in the U.S. may still be waiting for family and friends  who are in refugee camps. Koerner said some in the community may be questioning if they’re still welcomed in the United States due to the Trump administration's travel bans and rhetoric around immigration.

“There’s 65 million displaced people, there’s 22 million refugees — 45,000 are going to be allowed in the U.S," said Koerner.

"And just remember that these are more than just numbers. These are people who have had to flee their countries for war and persecution. And 45,000 is a fraction of a fraction of one percent, you know, of the world’s refugees.”

The United States Refugee Act of 1980 was a bipartisan act signed by President Jimmy Carter. The act defines refugee as "a person residing outside of their country and who is unable to return due to fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a vulnerable social group."

The act also establishes that the president determines the number of refugees allowed in the country each year. Prior to Trump, the lowest ceiling was 67,000 in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.

“The ceiling doesn’t always match the amount of people that are allowed in,” said Koerner.

In 2002, President Bush set the ceiling at 70,000, though only about 27,000 refugees entered the U.S. that year. 

Since 1994, Louisville has directly resettled approximately 19,000 refugees.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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