Number of refugees settling in NJ decreases dramatically

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

“It’s heartbreaking, as a mother, not to be able to be with your child,” said Alison Millan.

Millan says that’s happening to fractured refugee families who sought asylum in America, and in New Jersey at the Elizabeth Chapter of the International Rescue Committee, or IRC. Millan heads the largest refugee resettlement agency in New Jersey, and says the Trump administration’s slowed the flow of asylum-seekers down to a mere trickle. She spoke about one Syrian mom who’s still waiting anxiously waiting for a daughter left behind in Egypt to join her in Jersey.

“She said, ‘I’m not sure I would have come if I knew that my daughter and her family couldn’t have come with me,'” Millan said.

The IRC reports that refugee arrivals in Elizabeth dropped 63 percent from 179 between October 2016 and March 2017 to just 67 for the same period a year later. Among those, the number of Syrian families bottomed out from 82 to zero over the same period. Statewide, 601 refugees found sanctuary in New Jersey in 2016, but just 253 did last year, and only 23 so far this year.

“Families who have been resettled are coming in and asking us for updates on their families’ cases, and it’s hard to give them an update. The changes in policies last year, and variations on Executive Orders and Supreme Court decisions really made it hard to know what we were working with,” said Millan.

Many people hoping to join family in America wait under precarious conditions in refugee camps. People admitted through these programs are thoroughly vetted, a process that can take years. But the Trump administration, in addition to throttling back on refugee quotas, also seeks to end so-called “chain migration.”

“Chain migration is a total disaster which threatens our security and our economy, and provides a gateway for terrorism. Likewise, the visa lottery is bad for our economy and very bad for security,” the president commented earlier this year.

“I’m appalled. I don’t like to see other countries out-Americaning us, when you see Canada letting in more refugees than we are,” Sen. Cory Booker said. “This just does not reflect the soul of our country and it’s a betrayal of our highest values.”

“People ask, ‘Why? Why don’t people want refugees? Why don’t people want asylees?’ It’s very hard. I don’t have a way to explain that,” said Courtney Madsen of Church World Service in Jersey City.

Madsen says their intake’s dropped 48 percent, from 69 to just 36. Nationwide, the U.S. is on track to admit 21,000 refugees in 2018, even though it set a cap of 45,000. What’s that mean for families hoping to reunite with members overseas that are stuck in the pipeline?

“I don’t know what that means for them long term, other than prolonged separation with no real just cause for that separation,” said Madsen.

There’s a side effect of slow walking the refugee program — without a steady stream of clients, agencies like Church World Service have laid off staff, and are considering options for the future.