MARYLAND (WDVM) — A faith-based organization that resettles refugees across Maryland is calling for President Biden to stay true to his word after the White House announced the original refugee cap of 15,000 would remain until mid-May.
On April 16, President Biden announced the removal of refugee eligibility criteria put into place by former President Trump. However, the record-low cap on the number of refugees allowed entry to the United States still remained. After criticism from many Democratic lawmakers, the Biden administration backtracked and now plans to increase the refugee cap by May 15th.
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service helps to resettle refugees across Maryland and the DMV area. President and CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah explains refugees contribute to the state economy but also to the national economy.
According to a 2017 report carried out by the New American Economy, a national, nonprofit, bipartisan immigration research and advocacy organization, in 2015, refugees across the country paid $14.5 billion in federal taxes and $6.4 billion in state and local taxes. Refugees in Maryland had $1.4 billion dollars in spending power.
Furthermore, a draft report obtained by the New York Times explained that over a 10-year period, refugees contributed a net positive 63 billion dollars to the U.S. tax base. The New York Times also details that former President Trump rejected this refugee revenue report.
Vignarajah also highlighted that over the last four years, the United States has allowed record low numbers of refugees into the country. Under previous administrations, the target number of refugees allowed entry hovered around 95,000 per year.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States welcomed 78,761 refugees in 2016, the final year of the Obama Administration. During the four years under President Trump, the United States only allowed a combined total of 69,670 refugees into the country; 24,559 refugees in 2017, 17,112 refugees in 2018, 21,259 refugees in 2019 and 6,740 refugees in 2020.
“I think that we could reach that number of 95,000 or more in the next year, year and a half. Part of what we need to rebuild is the infrastructure abroad and with the pandemic, some of our embassies have shuttered their offices,” Vignarajah explained. “But here at home, we’ve been working around the clock in order to rebuild, and I am really hopeful, given how much enthusiasm we see in faith communities as well as communities in general, who know that immigration is part of how our country was born and grew.”
Vignarajah also stated the United States is halfway through the fiscal year and her organization has only resettled 38 refugees in the state of Maryland. That is a fraction of the number of refugees that LIRS has settled in the past. In 2016, the organization resettled 369 refugees and that number increased in 2017 to 464 refugees. LIRS saw a sharp drop in resettlement efforts in 2018 and 2019, resettling only 160 refugees in 2018 and 287 in 2019. In 2020, LIRS resettled 276 refugees.
Vignarajah explained over the last few months, LIRS has been in the process of rebuilding its refugee resettlement infrastructure. The organization has been rehiring staff that was not utilized under the past administration, reconnecting with congregations and other faith communities and organizations to further what Vignarajah calls “the work of welcome.”
“The last four years, we’ve got a lot of fear-mongering and xenophobia and people not understanding that refugees and immigrants are not crime perpetrating assailants who are coming to like rape and pillage,” Vignarajah stated. “If people understood how amazing these people are and how they strengthen this country, even if they don’t believe it’s the right thing to do, that they’ll realize that it’s in our own interest.”