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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Biden Lifts Trump Refugee Cap After Delay Backlash

 May 5, 2021 at 10:16 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 President Biden announced his administration would raise the nation's refugee cap to 62,500 individuals. The decision comes after the president faced sharp criticism for failing to lift the previous cap set by the Trump administration of only 15,000, a restriction Biden. Now characterizes as historically low. The change in course means resettlement organizations will need to pull resources together to help people create a life here in the U S joining me to discuss efforts to help refugees resettle locally is Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish family services. Michael, welcome. Thank you. It's good to be here. So first, what's your reaction to Biden lifting the refugee cap? Speaker 2: 00:41 Well, obviously we, we applaud the Biden Harris decision to lift the cap. Um, frankly we were surprised, um, that he wanted to continue it at 15,000. Uh, and so I'm happy that, um, he changed his position, um, but the new position is actually much more aligned with what he campaigned on. So it took a while to get there and, uh, but we're there. Speaker 1: 01:04 How does your organization help refugees start their lives here in the U S Speaker 2: 01:08 So, um, I, I'm not going to tell the whole story, but I, it is important to note that we've been doing this work for over a hundred years. Matter of fact, Jewish family service here was founded by a group of women who went down to the border, uh, because the 1918 chews were stuck at the border. Um, so helping the stranger welcoming the stranger, working with refugees has been part of our organization's history for, for more than a century. Um, but over the last, probably 40 plus years, we've been very involved working with, um, highest a Hebrew immigrant aid society, our national partner in helping refugees settle here in San Diego. So we're one of four agencies that do that work locally. Um, and we, everything from, you know, uh, refugees different from asylum seekers, refugees, um, almost always arrive via plane. Um, they come in, you know, through the state department, um, they're vetted overseas. And then literally from the moment that they arrive at the airport, uh, we help them settle and help them on their path to citizenship. Speaker 1: 02:05 What portion of this higher refugee cap do you think will end up in the larger San Diego? Speaker 2: 02:11 So that is a really good question. I don't think anyone really knows, you know, uh, we have the numbers from the past year. Um, so for example, um, uh, you know, like even in, uh, like in 2016, um, San Diego had about 4,000, um, uh, refugees come to San Diego, uh, this past, this current year, we're at 341. I mean, it's really, uh, so much smaller than what it's been. Um, now the 4,000 that the cap was, was higher than 62, that five, um, and most believe that we won't even hit 62, five and the remainder of this fiscal year. Um, so it probably means a couple of thousand for San Diego at some point. I mean, that that'd be my guess. Speaker 1: 02:52 So exactly. What kinds of resources do you offer to help someone or a family start their lives here in San Diego? So it's Speaker 2: 03:00 Really pretty, uh, um, I mean the first thing that happens is a, is a health screening and we make sure that, you know, that folks come here, um, just medically are, are good to go. Um, so the services include everything from English, learning English to, um, making sure that, that, you know, that they, um, take advantage of the classes that are available here in San Diego, uh, to employment work, to setting up their home, to, um, dealing with all of the issues that you can imagine that, um, when needs to be taken care of. Um, and, uh, these individuals are eligible for benefits. So we also need to make sure that any kind of public benefit that is available, that we, we make sure that they take advantage of that. So, um, our staff will work one-on-one with a family and, or with individuals and, and, and really get them established here. Speaker 1: 03:48 And can you talk about some of the circumstances people have had to flee from, to come to the United States? Speaker 2: 03:54 So that varies, um, and it varies based on what country they've come from. So in the past, um, you know, individuals that come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo they've come from Miramar, um, they've come from, um, obviously before the Trump administration, they came from many countries in the middle East, so it varied, but, um, I mean, the one common denominator with anyone who, um, is being resettled, anyone who is part of the refugee program is, um, they are no longer in the country where they were originally living, you know, um, almost always they were, um, they come here via, um, having spent a fair amount of time in a refugee camp. And so, um, they left wherever they were, um, because of a direct threat to their safety and security. And so all of them, um, have some level of trauma, all of them have had some experience that has allowed them to get this far. Um, and I would say that, you know, the program that we're a part of, which is also part of the United nations, you know, the, the individuals that often have the most needs come to the United States. And, and so, uh, so these are folks that, that do need, um, I would tell you say the loving kindness of, um, our staff and our volunteers, Speaker 1: 05:06 One big part of resettling is navigating the immigration system. Uh, what has that process been like? Speaker 2: 05:12 Right. So individuals who are part of, uh, who come here, uh, as refugees, um, as opposed to asylum seekers, um, have a clear path to citizenship. And, uh, after five years they're eligible to become a citizen. And, um, during that period, uh, we work with them to make sure that all the paperwork is completed. We also make sure that they are prepared for this citizenship test. We offered those types of classes here at Jewish family service. And so, you know, their, um, their path is much more defined. Um, and they come here, um, already, um, you know, in line to be a citizen and folks that come as asylum seekers have a really different process in terms of that there's actually a whole, uh, you know, a whole process of a hearing and to determine whether or not they're actually eligible to be in asylum. So that's a really different, uh, piece of legal work then, uh, then, um, folks that come as part of the resettlement program. Speaker 1: 06:06 So right now what's the biggest challenge your organization faces in helping refugees resettle? Speaker 2: 06:10 The biggest challenge is always the challenges that, um, has existed in the past is that, um, you know, very often we don't get a lot of notice. Um, and so, you know, so we, we we're prepared and we're ready. And then, uh, you know, and then we wait, um, it's sort of almost like when you go traveling, you know, there's a lot of hurry up, hurry up, and then you end up waiting. Um, the same thing happens in the, in this particular program where, um, we need to be prepared if somebody arrives in, you know, two days, three days, four days, but we never really know exactly when they come. Um, and then, um, often there are delays. Um, so the, the, the biggest hurdle really right now is the, is the government. Um, and that is that the program itself has really been, uh, dismantled over the years. And so just for the government to, um, to, you know, all of the screening, all of the work that's done to make sure that the folks that are bedded properly, um, uh, it takes a while. And so we are anxiously awaiting folks to arrive here. Um, so just that Jewish family service in the last year, 42 folks have been, uh, resettled. Um, and in past years, that number could be as high as 300, 400, 500. And so, um, you know, staffing up to that number is obviously we're, it's in progress. Speaker 1: 07:23 I've been speaking with Michael Hopkin, CEO of Jewish family services, Michael, thanks for joining us. Oh, you're welcome. Thank you.

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President Joe Biden is formally lifting the nation’s refugee cap to 62,500 this year. The move comes weeks after Biden faced bipartisan blowback for his delay in lifting former President Donald Trump's limit of 15,000.
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