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Biden Has Promised To Expand Refugee Resettlement. What Might That Mean For Vermont?

The USCRI Vermont office
Patti Daniels
/
VPR File
President-Elect Joe Biden has promised to raise the annual cap on refugees resettling in the United States, and ultimately, Vermont.

Since the start of the Trump administration, the number of refugees welcomed into the United States has dropped dramatically. But President-elect Joe Biden has promised to reverse that, raising the annual cap on refugees resettling in the U.S. to 125,000 – almost 10 times the current cap of 15,000 under Trump.That could have an impact here in Vermont, which has welcomed over 8,000 refugees over several decades. But like the rest of the country, that number has dwindled in the last four years.

For more on how refugee resettlement in Vermont could change under the Biden administration, VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Amila Merdzanovic, the director of the Vermont chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which assists new immigrants and refugees in settling in the state. She outlined just how much the number of refugees coming to Vermont has changed in the last four years. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: I understand the number of refugees resettled in Vermont has dropped dramatically since 2016. Can you tell us exactly how the number of new refugees coming to Vermont has changed over the last four years?

Amila Merdzanovic: So in 2016 – just for comparison – we welcomed 386 individuals. And then the following year, the number dropped to 230, and then down to 150. And then … in the recent fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, we welcomed 21 individuals, and obviously COVID also had a lot to do with that. But nevertheless, the number has decreased quite drastically.

So over 300 to just 21 – how has that changed your day-to-day operations here at USCRI?

You know, the current policies have made a major blow to both our capacity to process refugees globally and also to welcome them here.

Prior to 2017, there were 350 refugee resettlement programs around the country and currently that number is down, probably around 230. That infrastructure has been dismantled, pretty much, so it will take time to rebuild and to get closer to where we were prior to 2017.

But the point, perhaps, is not to get immediately – and it's not realistic – to get to the numbers prior to 2017. The point is for the United States to reassert its commitment to refugee protection and refugee resettlement, both globally and locally, here.

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Do you feel like you're able to ramp up, to be able to accommodate more refugees, to welcome more people to the state in the next few years?

Yes. Again, that will happen gradually. The arrivals will increase gradually over the next year or so. And we certainly have plans to hire additional staff as soon as we're able to.

Also, it's very important for me to say that refugee resettlement doesn't happen in a vacuum in Vermont. We work very closely with our community partners. And then, I always say the backbone of our operation is our welcoming community and our hundreds of volunteers. The motivation and excitement is there and the rest will follow.

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As we mentioned earlier, Vermont has a long history now of welcoming refugees to the state. But there was a pretty well publicized controversy in Rutland, several years ago now, around a plan to bring 100 refugees to the city.

There were a number of people in Rutland that opposed that plan. It got quite a bit of press coverage locally and nationally. Are you concerned at all that new refugees could face more prejudice in Vermont?

Rutland in the end – you know, throughout that process, we had tremendous support from community members in Rutland and in the surrounding areas.

What became known as Rutland Welcomes, was a group of volunteers, community members that got organized and in the end really became and still are – many of those members are – a lifeline for the three Syrian families that were resettled in Rutland in 2018.

I have no concern that Vermonters will not continue to welcome and open their homes and their hearts and their communities to refugees coming in the next months and years. That is the American story. That is the story of Vermont.

Disclosure: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is a VPR underwriter.

Correction 11/27/2020: This post has been updated with a the correct numerical comparison between the number of refugees welcomed under the Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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