PORTLAND, Maine — The organization that helps refugees first transition to life in Maine is expecting half the number of people it originally planned to resettle in the state this year.
Catholic Charities of Maine had planned to help resettle 685 refugees from around the world by the end of September, but now expects about 350 to have arrived by the close of that month, when the federal government’s fiscal year ends, a spokeswoman said.
The anticipated drop would bring the number of refugees resettled in Maine to its lowest point since at least 2011, according to Catholic Charities data, and is the result of the Trump administration’s sharp reduction in the total number of refugees allowed into the United States.
Following his inauguration, President Donald Trump slashed the number of refugees the U.S. would take in this year, dropping the count to 50,000 from President Barack Obama’s planned 110,000.
It is not clear what will happen to the people who had been approved to come to the U.S. but now can’t, said Catholic Charities spokeswoman Judy Katzel.
Some might be taken in by other counties, but “they will probably remain in a refugee camp overseas,” she said.
This decrease led Catholic Charities to shrink its staff focused on resettlement, according to Katzel. However, she said the organization has also expanded in other areas to handle administrative tasks around refugee arrivals that the state government stopped performing last year.
Earlier in July, the State Department said it had hit the 50,000 cap, and this week the Supreme Court affirmed the president’s power to limit refugee admission.
Pending a fuller review of Trump’s ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries in October, the court is allowing close relatives of American residents from those countries to continue to come to the U.S. but upholding the executive order blocking more refugees.
Of the 761 refugees to come to Maine last year, 219 came from Somalia and Sudan, which are both included in Trump’s travel ban.
In Maine and nationally refugees became a flashpoint in last year’s elections. Politicians, including Trump and Gov. Paul LePage cast them as a threat and tied them to terror abroad, while resettlement advocates framed the issue as a humanitarian obligation and pointed to the rigorous screening the U.S. government and United Nations put refugees through.
As Maine’s population grays and the large baby boomer generation ages out of the workforce, immigration proponents also argue that refugees and other immigrants offer a much-needed boost to the labor market.
“We need every soul we can keep here,” said Julia Trujillo Luengo, director of Portland’s new Office of Economic Opportunity.
Days before the election, LePage announced that his administration would no longer cooperate with the federal Refugee Resettlement Program, although this move was largely rhetorical as governors have no power to block immigration.
In a letter about Maine’s withdrawal to President Barack Obama, LePage wrote “I have lost confidence in the federal government’s ability to safely and responsibly run the refugee program.” The Trump administration has likewise been working to institute new, “extreme vetting” of people seeking to enter the country to address what it said were deficiencies in existing security checks.
Since long before the election, refugees seeking to come to the U.S. were put through a multi-phase screening administered by the United Nations, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and several other government agencies before they are admitted to the country. The process includes lengthy interviews with trained Homeland Security officials and usually takes between 18 and 24 months, according to the State Department.
Refugees enter the U.S. legally and are authorized to work upon their arrival.