For the past few years, the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States has been dropping. Now, state and local leaders fear local resettlement agencies will be shut down as a result of declining numbers.
President Trump sets the cap for how many refugees the country will allow in each year. In 2018, that number was 45,000. In 2019, it will be 30,000, the lowest number since federal refugee resettlement was started in 1980.
"It's putting people or keeping people in harm's way. It's keeping families separated," Eva Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, said.
The Institute is one of four local agencies that work with the U.S. State Department to settle refugees in Western New York. The others are Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, Journey's End and Catholic Charities of Buffalo.
.@IIBuff talks about concern from @NYGovCuomo, @markpoloncarz that @StateDept could close/reduce refugee resettlement sites in #Buffalo. Says Institute has spent 100 yrs assisting foreign-born people. Will continue that work no matter what. @WKBW pic.twitter.com/YToHBRakK3
— Josh Bazan (@JoshBazan) December 11, 2018
Hassett and many local leaders point out the positive impact refugees have had on WNY, providing a boost to the economy and culture.
"Where will we find enough people to fill all the jobs, to buy all the houses, to start all the new companies? This is very significant in a city like Buffalo that continues to decline in population and to get older," Hassett said.
But, the federal government has indicated to New York State some of the local agencies here in Buffalo could be shut down.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown all wrote letters to the State Department, emphasizing how important refugees are to the WNY economy and calling for all the agencies to be kept open.
"In New York, we welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms and we believe in the values of openness and inclusion that built this state and this nation," Governor Cuomo wrote.
If the federal government decides to reduce the number of resettlement agencies in Buffalo, some will lose crucial funding that helps support different programs offered to refugees and immigrants in the community. There is no word on when things might change.
As for the International Institute, it says it has been supporting foreign-born individuals since 1918, well before the federal government introduced this program, and it plans to continue doing so regardless of what happens going forward.