Two-and-a-half years after Lancaster city was called America’s refugee capital, nonprofits working in the county say their resettlement numbers have declined dramatically as a result of the Trump administration’s temporary suspension of the refugee program in 2017.
Church World Service, an international humanitarian organization saw its resettlement numbers in Lancaster fall from 407 in fiscal year 2016 to 198 in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, according to its website.
Prior to the freeze, Bethany Christian Services, another humanitarian organization, resettled 74 individuals, according to Mark Unger, Lancaster’s regional branch director. That number dropped to 53 last year.
The BBC gave Lancaster the title of refugee capital based on the city’s reception of 1,300 refugees from 2013 to 2017. That was 20 times more per capita than the U.S. as a whole.
Refugees who were already approved to move to the U.S. were told by the Trump administration in 2017 that they had to be recertified, with some facing a two-year delay of their resettlement, which has contributed to the lower numbers, Unger said.
“When the current administration closed the pipeline and shut down refugee services for a time, when they opened it up, it's not like people could just come back in,” Unger said.
Lower federal caps
The Trump administration also decreased the maximum number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. from 45,000 in the 2018 fiscal year to 30,000 this year, according to the National Immigration Forum. In fiscal year 2016, nearly 85,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S.
Bethany temporarily suspended its refugee programs in its Philadelphia and Allentown branches and now handles all Pennsylvania resettlement cases through its Lancaster office, Unger said. Six staff working in refugee resettlement have been laid off since 2017 while others were transferred to unrelated Bethany programs.
Resettlement numbers fell in 2017 because the majority of refugees came from Somalia and Syria, both of which were on the administration’s list of banned countries, said Stephanie Gromek, the development and communications coordinator for Church World Service in Lancaster.
The organization, however, has received more individual donations in recent years and did not have to make layoffs, Gromek said. Church World Service Lancaster expects to settle 225 refugees this year after seeing a surge in arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma and Ukraine, she said.
“The administration is not making it easy, but all things considered, CWS in Lancaster is doing well,” Gromek said.
Bethany’s Lancaster branch is financially viable and has increased its staff more than seven-fold since 2009, Unger said, though the organization does not singularly focus on refugee resettlement.
Long history of helping
Church World Service was founded after World War II to provide food, clothing and medicine to refugees in Europe and Asia, according to its website. Its refugee program has resettled more than half a million refugees since its inception.
Bethany began as a childcare organization in 1944 and has grown to operate in 30 states and internationally. The nonprofit collaborates with churches to provide housing and language training to refugees in Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Regardless of the drop in numbers, Lancaster city is continuing its long heritage of being welcoming to refugees, Unger said.
Church World Service encourages individuals to participate in a national call-in day today by urging their congressional representatives to protect refugees, Gromek said. More information can be found here.