Dozens of refugee resettlement offices to close as Trump downsizes program

NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Refugee resettlement agencies are preparing to shutter more than 20 offices across the United States and cut back operations in more than 40 others after the State Department told them to pare their operations, according to plans seen by Reuters.

The slated closures, which are being reviewed by the State Department for final approval, follow President Donald Trump's decision to dramatically reduce the number of refugees that will be allowed into the United States in 2018.

The State Department has said the drop in refugee numbers, from the 110,000 ceiling set by the Obama administration to 45,000 for 2018, means the country no longer needs all of the 324 resettlement offices that were operating at the end of 2017. This year's cap on refugees is the lowest since 1980.

The offices, run by private non-profit agencies that contract with the U.S. government, provide a range of services to refugees, from assisting them in finding housing and jobs, to helping them navigate banking, medical care, school enrollment and other complexities of life in America.

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Rohingya refugees carry an injured man after a fight broke out between families at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees walk inside the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees manually drill a borewell at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Ruzina Akhter, 10, whose parents died while crossing the Myanmar border, cooks food inside a shelter at a refugee camp in Palong Khali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Rohingya refugees stand outside their shelter on hillock at a refugee camp in Palong Khali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A Rohingya refugee boy bathes at a refugee camp in Palong Khali district in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Sowkot, 20, a pregnant Rohingya refugee, is examined in a women's clinic in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
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A Rohingya refugee girl holds her sister as she sits outside a medical center at a refugee camp in Palong Khali district, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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A Rohingya refugee girl who crossed the border from Myanmar this week sleeps beside his family belongings as he take shelter at a school in Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 21, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
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Opponents of the resettlement program say it is more costly to resettle refugees in the United States than it is to give aid to displaced people overseas.

"The changes will consolidate smaller affiliates, reduce costs and simplify management structures to help the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program run in a way that is fiscally responsible and sustainable in the long term," State Department spokeswoman Cheryl Harris said in an email.

Refugees can access services from the resettlement centers for up to five years after they first arrive, so the closures could potentially affect thousands of recent arrivals, said Robert Carey, who directed the Office of Refugee Resettlement under President Barack Obama.

“The population doesn’t go away when you turn off the spigot,” Carey said. “If the intent is really to have people integrate into society then doing this is counter to that intent.”

The Trump administration has said it wants refugees to assimilate quickly, both to promote national security and so that they can become self-sufficient.

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"We've never seen a cut of this size and also a cut of this impact," said Hans Van de Weerd an executive at the International Rescue Committee, one of the nine resettlement agencies. While the size of the U.S. refugee program has fluctuated over the years, it has never seen an across-the-board cut to dozens of offices in such a short period of time, he said.

Van de Weerd said the cuts could make it difficult for the United States to ramp up refugee numbers in the future. "It took years to build up this capacity," he said. "Once you break it down it's not easy to build it up again."

Some of the proposed closures are in cities with more than one resettlement office, but others are in places where residents will have no other place to turn.

The only two resettlement offices in Louisiana would close, and the only office in Hawaii would have to sharply curtail its operations, according to the plans developed by the agencies.

While the one resettlement office in Hawaii will remain open for now to provide ongoing services, it will not accept any new refugees this year and as a result will receive far less in government funding to help refugees already living in the state, said Eskinder Negash, the acting head of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which partners with the Hawaii center.

NATIONWIDE CUTS

The plans to shutter local offices were drawn up after a Dec. 1 meeting between State Department officials and representatives of the refugee agencies. The government told the agencies that offices expected to handle fewer than 100 refugees in fiscal year 2018 would no longer be authorized to resettle new arrivals.

In response, the agencies drew up proposals for closing some offices and downsizing the operations of others.

In addition to the closures, 11 planned new offices, two in Washington State and others in places from New Mexico to Indiana, will not be opening their doors in 2018.

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A red sun is seen over a dinghy overcrowded with Syrian refugees drifting in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece after its motor broke down off the Greek island of Kos, August 11, 2015. United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) called on Greece to take control of the "total chaos" on Mediterranean islands, where thousands of migrants have landed. About 124,000 have arrived this year by sea, many via Turkey, according to Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis 
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An Afghan migrant jumps off an overcrowded raft onto a beach at the Greek island of Lesbos October 19, 2015. Thousands of refugees - mostly fleeing war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq - attempt daily to cross the Aegean Sea from nearby Turkey, a short trip but a perilous one in the inflatable boats the migrants use, often in rough seas.Almost 400,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, overwhelming the cash-strapped nation's ability to cope. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis 
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A local man helps a Syrian refugee who jumped off board from a dinghy as he swims exhausted at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis 
A Syrian refugee holds onto his two children as he struggles to disembark from a raft on the northern coast of the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Lesbos September 24, 2015. Over 850,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on the Greek island in 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
An Afghan migrant is seen inside a bus following his arrival by the Eleftherios Venizelos passenger ferry with over 2,500 migrants and refugees from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, October 8, 2015. Refugee and migrant arrivals to Greece this year will soon reach 400,000, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Syrian refugee girl sits in a bus at a temporary registration camp during a rain storm on the Greek island of Lesbos October 21, 2015. Over half a million refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in Greece this year and the rate of arrivals is rising with over 8,000 coming on Monday alone, in a rush to beat the onset of freezing winter, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis 
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A Syrian refugee child cries as she is squeezed by other refugees and migrants trying to move ahead at Geece's border with Macedonia near the village of Idomeni early morning September 7, 2015. Thousands of migrants and refugees were crowding at Greece's border with Macedonia on Monday morning, their entry slowly rationed by Greek and Macedonian police.. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
A Greek policeman pushes refugees behind a barrier at Greece's border with Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 9, 2015. Most of the people flooding into Europe are refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries who have a legal right to seek asylum, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian policemen to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Most of the people flooding into Europe are refes fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries who have a legal right to seek asylum, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis 
A Macedonian policeman lifts his baton against refugees and migrants as they wait to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Most of the people flooding into Europe are refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries who have a legal right to seek asylum, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Syrian refugees walk through the mud as they cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis 
A Syrian refugee kisses his daughter as he walks through a rainstorm towards Greece's border with Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Reuters and The New York Times shared the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images of the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Early in his administration, Trump issued an executive order temporarily barring all refugees, which was challenged in court, but ultimately implemented with some revisions. Since then, the government has added new vetting procedures for refugees and their families applying to come to the United States from certain countries deemed to be security risks.

The vetting measures are likely to significantly slow down the pace of arrivals, refugee organizations have said, and in the end the United States may not reach its cap for the year of 45,000 refugees.

In January, 1,385 refugees were admitted, compared to 6,777 in the same month last year and 4,376 in January 2016, according to government statistics.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)

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