LANSING, Mich. — The number of refugees resettled in Lansing plummeted during Donald Trump’s presidency, the result of historically low caps on the number of refugees admitted to the United States.
Just 53 refugees were resettled here in 2020, down from more than 800 in the last year of Barack Obama's presidency.
President Joe Biden is working to dramatically increase those numbers and advocates expect resettlement to pick up over the coming years.
Judi Harris is the director of Refugee Services at St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Her team assists refugees who arrive in Lansing secure housing and other essentials. In the 40 years it’s operated, the agency has resettled more than 15,000 refugees from 48 countries in Lansing.
Harris said every year of the Trump administration took a toll of refugee centers like hers, but the first year of his presidency was the hardest.
“2017 was probably our most difficult year because it was very unstable,” she said.
Harris said Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric also made refugees the targets of harassment.
“People were being yelled at on the bus and in grocery stores, so that created a lot of fear,” she said. “We did have people who had hijabs pulled off, so that was a terrifying time.”
The Trump administration slashed the number of refugees allowed into the US to15,000 last year, lower than at any time since the 1980 Refugee Act went into effect. Biden plans to raise that number to 62,500 this year and likely higher thereafter. He also announced a task force that will work to reunite families separated at the border.
For Harris, Biden’s rollback of Trump’s policies is a chance for her team “to start rebuilding.” Her program budget shrunk when Trump took office and she was forced to lay off 17 staff members. As soon as federal funding to restore those positions is available, Harris plans to continue helping refugees resettle in Lansing.
“These are just normal people who just want to live their lives, and work hard, and take care of their families and give a lot to their children,” she said.
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