Slashing Resettlement Will Hurt Refugees and Hurt New York

July, 26, 2019. In 2019, President Trump capped the refugee resettlement program at just 30,000 entries, the lowest it has been since the beginning of the modern refugee resettlement program. If recent news reports are right, the Trump administration is now discussing reducing the cap even further, possibly as far as zero.

Refugee resettlement is a humanitarian commitment: refugees are resettled in the United States from some of the most horrific circumstances around the world and allowed the chance to make a new home in this country. But, resettlement is also good for the communities that welcome refugees, helping them grow in so many ways.

For at least a decade, New York has been among the states resettling the largest numbers of refugees: New York is number three on that list, following behind California and Texas. In New York, 5,800 refugees were resettled in FY 2016 compared to 1,300 so far in FY 2019.[1] That’s under a quarter of refugees resettled in FY 2016, with only two months left in FY 2019. Three of New York’s upstate metro areas are in the top 50 metro areas in the country for resettling large numbers of refugees: Buffalo (#13), Syracuse (#20), and Rochester (#32).

In Upstate New York, refugees have helped reverse population decline, revitalize communities, add to the local workforce, start businesses that create jobs and contribute to the local economy through taxes. They also renovate and use empty housing, help keep open schools that may otherwise be on the verge of closing and begin to bring vitality to downtown areas as they open restaurants, grocery stores, and other “main street” businesses. In the downstate area, refugees are not as visible a part of the large immigrant populations, but as around the rest of the country, refugees in downstate New York become well integrated and succeed over time.

Employers who have hired refugees are also generally pleased with the results. A FPI and TENT Foundation study found that employers who hire refugees have higher retention and lower turnover rates. This is especially important in areas like Upstate New York that have experienced population decline. A FPI and Center for American Progress report also found that among  Somali, Burmese, Hmong, and Bosnian refugee communities, they learn English, become homeowners and rise on the career ladder the longer they are in the United States.

Governor Cuomo and New York State lawmakers have recognized the mutual benefits of refugee resettlement, even if the federal government has not. For three years New York has invested $2 million annually to help refugee resettlement agencies keep their doors open even as federal funding has slowed, and to provide enhanced services to refugees who are currently in the area as well as those moving to New York from other parts of the United States. These enhanced services allow refugees to make real progress toward better-paying jobs and faster social integration. In Utica, New York State also provided support for the creation of the “One World Welcome and Opportunity Center” to serve as a one-stop-shop with other organizations, and to expand their services to include vocational and workforce training.

There is a long, bipartisan history of support for refugee resettlement in this country that the Trump Administration should not turn its back on. Resettlement serves a humanitarian purpose, and it advances foreign policy goals as well, projecting a positive image of the United States and giving this country leverage when it stands up for refugees. And, resettlement is good for New York, and has played an especially important role in upstate cities. Eliminating the program or further reducing the refugee resettlement cap from its already low level will hurt cities across the country that have flourished after periods of decline, such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and Utica in New York, due to the resettlement of refugees.

By: Cyierra Roldan


[1] The time period for FY 2019 is from October 01, 2018 through June 30, 2019. These refugee numbers do not include Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan and Iraqi (SIVs), asylees, Victims of Trafficking and Cuban/Haitian Entrants. WRAPS Data. WRAPS Data: