Executive orders have forced resettlement agencies to let staff go.
During the tumultuous first month of President Trump’s administration, none of his many executive orders has drawn the outsized attention and backlash of the bans and new limitations on immigrant and refugee populations. As reported in the Dispatch on Feb. 16, that order cut the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000 this fiscal year. The cuts have already affected the refugee-friendly hub of Columbus, where the local office of the World Relief resettlement agency announced that it will close in mid-July, along with four other affiliates nationwide.
All three local resettlement agencies—World Relief, Community Refugee and Immigration Services and US Together—are feeling the brunt of the decision. Combined, a total of 20.5 staff positions have been cut locally since the order was issued, with four more jobs to be lost when World Relief closes its doors for good. Stemming the flow of resettlement has crippled the agencies’ budgets. Each receives administrative funding from the State Department based on the number of refugees served, according to Angela Plummer, the executive director of CRIS.
Not only has the resettlement program taken a large hit, but the three agencies report that many of the workers who have been laid off are former refugees themselves; so far they account for half the cuts. The former refugees provide much-needed language skills and cultural competency for working with those from their native countries, and the resettlement jobs provide them with steady employment.
“A lot of them want to give back, and they want to be involved in helping others like they’ve been helped,” said Kay Lipovsky, the director of World Relief Columbus, during an interview last year with Columbus Monthly for the article “The Second Shangri-La.”
That article followed the personal stories of several former refugees who opened their own businesses locally, part of a burgeoning foreign-born class that boasts entrepreneurship rates double that of native-born residents. In interviews for the article, Plummer said that CRIS was often a stepping stone on their employment path; two of CRIS’ current or former employees were among the entrepreneurs featured. Meanwhile, former refugees Nadia Kasvin and Tatyana Mindlina founded US Together, turning resettlement into an entrepreneurship venture in and of itself.
As the agencies have been forced to cut staff across the board, that pipeline of stable resettlement work is threatened and could be trimmed further next fiscal year, depending on the long-term direction the administration ultimately takes.
“This is such a sad state of affairs,” Lipovsky says via email, adding that she’s still concerned about damage from forthcoming executive orders. “I think there will be more bad news coming.”