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More than 77,000 refugees were expected to come to the United States in 2011. Instead, fewer than 55,000 will arrive, because of new security screening implemented abruptly this winter.

The U.S. State Department works with 11 agencies—including five Christian organizations—to help refugees start their new lives in America. The average number admitted annually since 1980 is 98,000, according to the Refugee Council USA.

Like many other resettlement offices, the World Relief branch in Durham, North Carolina, relies on per-refugee grants to pay staff. When no refugees arrived in Durham between late February and April, the office cut employee pay by 8 hours a week. Nationally, World Relief and Church World Service offices have experienced significant layoffs because of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy.

In February, World Relief Durham was preparing for new refugees when the arrival flights were suddenly deleted from the tracking system. Resettlement director Andrew Castle says he called headquarters and heard that there were hundreds of unexpectedly canceled flights, attributed to a new DHS policy that requires a pre-departure check to make sure refugees are still eligible to come to the U.S.

"It seems … that even the State Department was somewhat caught off guard," said Dan Kosten, chair of the Refugee Council USA.

The delay caused by this newly required clearance can last past the expiration of refugees' medical clearances. That would require them to start much of the resettlement process over again. Vicky Knight, deputy director for programs at Church World Service, says getting caught in this cycle can be dangerous for vulnerable refugees.

In the past, similar screenings took place six months ...

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In the Magazine

August 2011

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