By Janelle Olisea
President Joe Biden’s recent raise on the refugee admissions cap to 62,500 has made the local refugee resettlement agency, the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC), hopeful to welcome refugees to the area and assist them with starting new lives.
Last year, former President Donald Trump lowered the refugee admissions cap to 15,000, the lowest number set since the refugee cap began in 1980. Biden said the previous cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”
Biden said he does not believe that the U.S. will reach its goal of 62,500 admissions this year but has since committed to 125,000 refugee admissions in the first part of his presidency.
While the admissions cap raise reopens the program to new refugees, NNIC has not seen an increase in clients in need of resettlement.
“The Trump administration decimated the internal infrastructure,” Carina Black, NNIC executive director, said. “While the Biden administration wants to increase the numbers of refugees, we are not seeing an influx of clients because almost everybody has fallen out of the pipeline.”
To be eligible to obtain asylum in the U.S. as a refugee, one must first demonstrate a “fear of persecution” in their home country due to their race, religion, nationality or social group. The process of entering the U.S. as a refugee can take several years to complete and that timeframe can be impacted by an administration’s immigration policies.
“To go through all the different processes from health checks, to biometric checks, to interviews, to now COVID tests …that process is such a lengthy process and each of the stages within the process has expiration dates,” Black said. “We are supposed to resettle about 80 to 100 individuals this fiscal year, and we are going to be at less than 20 to 30 because of that dismantlement of the system.”
During the Trump administration, refugee admissions were restricted from Somalia, Yemen and Syria, which are countries with large Muslim populations. Trump instead prioritized refugees who were Jewish, Christian or part of other certain religious faiths.
Biden reversed this policy in April and also added slots for refugees from the Middle East, Central America and Africa.
“Many countries are doing so much more of their part in taking care of people who are displaced,” Black said. “The United States and its global leadership position can do more and needs to do more because if we don’t, other industrialized and developed countries will follow that lead. That’s exactly what happened during the Trump administration.”
Biden had previously received backlash after stating that the Trump administration’s 15,000 cap “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”
More than 100 U.S. resettlement offices closed during Trump’s term.
“Because we [NNIC] were new, we did not have to let go of staff. Many agencies across the country had to actually tell their staff, ‘We have no refugees. You have no job.’” Black added. “There is a huge push now to rebuild. Once the pipeline starts filling back up, we are ready to go.”
NNIC believes that as refugee resettlement agencies begin to rebuild from challenges brought on by the last few years, the admissions cap raise will ultimately be for the betterment of the community.
“I think it will have a positive impact because we have such a labor shortage. We are getting tons of calls from local companies. Everybody is looking for people who need jobs. We are hoping to work with many employers to fulfill that need,” Black said.
“They have the same dreams as we have, and they are bringing their culture to share and to enrich our Reno community.”
Although organizations such as NNIC remain hopeful that they will see an increase in clients, they also have to grapple with the local challenges that remain.
“We have a huge housing shortage in northern Nevada,” Black said. “We are desperately looking for both short-term and long-term housing solutions. We hope to get our hands on some kind of local housing for our clients in the long run.”
The COVID-19 pandemic posed an additional barrier for refugees hoping to enter the country. The U.S. has resettled just above 3,000 refugees this year, putting it on track to accept fewer refugees than 2020.
“What we do matters so much to the rest of the world because we are the most powerful country. We are the most powerful country because we are founded by those individuals,” Black continued.
Before a client arrives in the U.S., NNIC begins their pre-arrival process. This includes finding affordable housing, preparing for their client’s specific needs and furnishing their home.
Once a refugee arrives, their journey is far from over. Refugee resettlement programs, such as NNIC’s Reception & Placement Program, provide them with 23 core services, including cultural orientation, transportation assistance, food stamps and school enrollment for their first 90 days in the country. The first 90 days are crucial for helping clients begin to adapt to their new environment.
“These families and individuals are fleeing from conflict, persecution, and they just need a place to start their life again,” said Gladys Wilson, refugee resettlement program manager. “They just want to have the opportunity to provide a better life for their families.”
The Refugee Social Services include services such as English language and vocational training, assistance with job searches and case management. These social services are available for up to 5 years from their date of arrival to the U.S., date of final grant of asylum, or date of certification as being a victim of trafficking.
“They have the same dreams as we have, and they are bringing their culture to share and to enrich our Reno community,” Wilson added.
While rebuilding the internal infrastructure will be a lengthy process, NNIC representatives hope to continue raising awareness about the long-lasting impact refugees have on the greater-Reno community.