An executive order issued by the Trump administration has the International Rescue Committee and its resettlement offices, including that in Missoula, seeking “consent” from both state and local governments in order to continue the program.
The president has also drastically slashed the number of refugees who will be admitted into the U.S. in the 2020 fiscal year to 18,000. As funding from the State Department drops with the number of admissions, it’s possible that not all refugee resettlement agencies will survive.
“The State Department has shared with the resettlement agencies that it’s likely not all nine resettlement agencies will be funded,” said Jen Barile, director of the IRC office in Missoula. “It’s actually possible that some of the smaller agencies would close.”
The International Rescue Committee is the nation’s largest, and it opened its Missoula office in 2016 with blessings from the city and area nonprofits, including Soft Landing.
Since then, the IRC has resettled 343 individual refugees to Missoula, primarily from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. The program has enjoyed wide community support, though its future remains uncertain under the Trump administration.
“We feel we’re in really good standing and hope we’re not one of the resettlement agencies that would close,” Barile told Missoula County commissioners on Thursday. “Most resettlement offices don’t operate when resettling less than 100 people per year, which is our number. There’s a lot of unknowns.”
There are also lingering questions around an executive order issued by Trump on Sept. 26. It now requires all states and localities to provide written consent for refugee resettlement to continue in those jurisdictions.
“The nine refugee resettlement agencies are being asked to implement this executive order by seeking consent from state and local officials,” Barile said. “The consent must be included in our application to the State Department in order to continue resettling refugees to Missoula.”
Thus far, Gov. Steve Bullock and Missoula Mayor John Engen have both consented to resettling refugees in Missoula. Missoula County commissioners said they will consider doing the same later this month.
Without the signature of either the state or local entity, the resettlement program would not be permitted to continue. The application is due next month.
“There are a lot of questions surrounding the executive order and the notice of funding opportunity from the State Department,” said Barile. “I know the legal teams for all nine resettlement agencies are trying to understand the language.”
The IRC is one of nine resettlement agencies that partners with the U.S. government and local communities to resettle refugees. The resettlement program in the U.S. traces its roots back to World War II but was formerly launched in 1980 when Congress passed the Refugee Act.
“It’s always had strong bipartisan support,” Barile said.
But the Trump administration has pecked away at the program since taking office in 2016, driving admissions to a historic low.
The average number of annual admissions since the program began was 95,000. It rose to 110,000 under the Obama administration, but was cut to 85,000 in Trump’s first year. The president has capped at 18,000 the number of admissions permitted during Fiscal Year 2020.
“Missoula has been a highly supportive environment for refugees and in return, these individuals are giving back,” said Barile. “They’re taxpayers and consumers, they create jobs as entrepreneurs, and in addition to their financial contributions, they play a critical role in the local labor force, filling positions which help keep Missoula’s economy moving forward.”