States and Localities Can Determine Whether to Resettle Refugees In Their Communities
By Shari Rendall | FAIR Take | December 2019
On September 26, 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) to increase state and local input in refugee resettlement. President Trump recognized that state and local governments are in the best position to determine whether their communities have the resources and capacities to resettle refugees and integrate them into their communities.
Under the president’s order, written affirmative consent is required from the governor and a local authority, typically the county. According to the (EO), this consent is needed before the refugees are resettled into that particular state and locality. However, the U.S. Secretary of State, after consulting with the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, may still resettle refugees into a state or locality that has not consented to resettlement if he/she determines that failing to resettle refugees would be inconsistent with the policies and strategies established by federal law. If the Secretary of State intends to resettle refugees without consent, the Secretary must notify the President of his/her decision prior to proceeding.
While governors and county executives have been rushing to give their consent based on pressure from special interests groups that financially benefit from refugee resettlement, consent is actually not required until late Spring.
The President’s EO is consistent with federal law seeking to ensure the states and localities have a voice in determining who is resettled into their communities. Federal law requires that the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), consults with state and local governments and voluntary non-profit resettlement agencies concerning the sponsorship process and the intended distribution of refugees among the states and localities before their placement.
In addition to ensuring that refugees are not placed in an area that is already “highly impacted” by refugees, they must take into account:
- the preexisting proportion of refugees and comparable entrants in the area;
- the availability of the area’s employment opportunities, affordable housing, and other educational and health care resources;
- the likelihood that refugees will become self-sufficient and free from dependence on public assistance in an area; and
- the area’s likelihood of secondary refugee migration.
Despite the requirement by law to ensure states and localities have a voice in refugee resettlement, a lawsuit has been filed against President Trump’s EO. The lawsuit filed in Maryland district court by three resettlement agencies, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, asks the court to halt the EO. It contends that the EO threatens to keep thousands of refugees from being reunited with their families and placed in communities where they can thrive.
While the lawsuit insinuates a nefarious motive, the purpose of the EO, according to President Trump, was to be respectful of communities that may not be able to accommodate refugee resettlement. Influxes of refugees may easily overwhelm an already overburdened community’s social services and health care agencies, diminish the availability of affordable housing and job opportunities, and strain the capacity of local school districts to meet the needs of existing or anticipated student populations.
As of May, 2019, the United Nations estimates there are 70.8 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict or persecution. Among them, nearly 26 million are refugees, over half of those are under the age of 18. America has a long history of providing help to the oppressed. According to the World Giving Index, the United States has been the most generous country over the past decade. Since 1980, the United States has admitted over 3.5 million people seeking refuge.
Most refugees arrive in the United States with few financial resources and possess few marketable job skills. The American taxpayer bears significant costs for the resettling of refugees. Refugees (including recipients of political asylum) cost American taxpayers $1.8 billion annually, which totals $15,900 per refugee per year. And sometimes these financial commitments can go on for years. While the United States most assuredly has an interest in helping those in dire need, it must not pose a crushing burden at the state and local levels.
To see a list of states and counties that have consented to refugee resettlement, click here.