Sacramento has the largest refugee resettlement center in the United States. More than 5,200 refugees came into the county last year.
But the Trump administration announced Monday the new quota for refugee resettlement in the U.S. would be 30,000 individuals, the lowest target number in nearly 40 years.
Representatives from two local resettlement agencies joined Insight With Beth Ruyak to discuss how this new policy, beginning Oct. 1, will affect the refugee population here and the work they do in the community. Deborah Ortiz is CEO of the group Opening Doors, and Genevieve Levy is the director of Family Services for the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services.
On the announcement of the new cap number
Ortiz: We anticipated a low number. You never know how low the number is, but 30,000 — we were not surprised. It certainly is the lowest number in history and it certainly doesn't reflect the 62 million or so displaced across the world, and the 22.5 million that have already been classified as refugees. So when you compare that with what the U.S. is agreeing to accept but that we know will not actually arrive, based on this last year, it's really profoundly disheartening.
On how this will affect local resettlement numbers
Ortiz: Our region has been hit significantly. We saw some large arrivals in the first quarter. But our organization is about at 54 percent of what we were told we were going to receive. And these are refugees who had been vetted, who had been cleared, who have been authorized, but that last final piece of allowing them to be provided a visa has not been afforded. So we have been at least 50 percent less than what we were told that we're going to arrive. And we're hearing from people afar saying we're not being able to travel that final step. ...
I sort of acknowledged that we need to presume that the arrivals will be nominal at best. It means we're not going to be doing resettlement and we're going to be doing other programs. We may get one or two — they may trickle in. But I don't think we have any expectations that we're going to see the numbers return to anything like this last year by the end of this month, which will be the end of the fiscal year. We probably will have settled 545 out of what we were told would be 968. And so we have to assume that that 545 or whatever is probably going to be much higher than what we get in the next fiscal year.
On why Sacramento is a destination for refugees and especially Afghan special visa holders
Levy: There are jobs.
Ortiz: And a relatively affordable cost of living. Some of them may have earlier settled in L.A. or San Diego. We see that we have surpassed L.A. for that reason. We’re just slightly below San Diego, but that experience over the last three to four years, starting with Iraqi special immigrant visa holders, that preceded the large Afghan visa holders. There's that conversation across those communities that it's a welcoming community, it's an affordable community. ... Sacramento is phenomenal. We hear stories from across the country about not being welcoming of refugees. This community across all faiths, across the business community, volunteers are just incredibly welcoming and it's very heartwarming to see sort of the fabric of this community be so supportive of newcomers, refugees, immigrants.
This interview was condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the "play" button above.