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Trump's strict cap on refugees complicates local resettlement efforts

The International Institute of St. Louis building.
File photo | Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
The International Institute of St. Louis resettles refugees in the St. Louis area.

A federal appeals panel's ruling last week lifted a travel ban for residents of seven predominantly Muslim countries, but it didn't change one crucial aspect of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration: a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the United States.

That's is a significant drop, considering that the Obama administration raised the cap from 85,000 to 110,000 for the 2017 federal fiscal year, which extends from last October to this September. As a result, local organizations that resettle refugees, such as the International Institute of St. Louis, are finding themselves in a difficult position, having originally planned for a larger intake of people.

"The 50,000 number is going to be devastating to communities around the country that have the capacity to resettle more and who have the housing that they've been setting up, volunteers who are ready to work, staff that needs to keep busy and there are going to be no refugees to be able to resettle," said Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis. 

Crosslin said she would not be surprised if the cap was reached by next month.  The State Department has already admitted two-thirds of Trump's refugee limit. 

"The [U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program] is going to come to a grinding halt and for four to six months, there's going to be no refugee resettlement in the United States," she said. 

The International Institute has expanded its staff and resources to accommodate the rising caps during the last few years of the Obama administration. When the national cap was raised from 70,000 to 85,000 between the 2015 and 2016 federal fiscal years, the number of refugees the International Institute resettled grew by 40 percent. But with the new restriction, responsibilities are changing among the organization's staff and Crosslin said that they will have to raise funds to cover gaps in resources that will occur once the cap has been reached. 

"There's always been this nonpartisanship when it came to refugee funding and openness to accept them, so this has been startling because of regardless of whether we have had Republican or Democratic administrations since the Refugee Act of 1980, [the Refugee Resettlement Program] has always been supported," Crosslin. "While there was always a possibility that something like [Trump's order] could happen, it is more startling when one might think."

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.