Trump Administration Plans To Cap The Number Of Accepted Refugees To 45,000
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The Trump administration plans to cap the number of refugees it lets into the U.S. next year at 45,000. That's the lowest number in years. The White House says this will save money. The nation spends millions of dollars a year on social services for refugees. Economists say that is not the whole story, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: If you're looking for traditional clothing from Nepal or authentic lentils from India or a plate of fried rice, the Himalayan Store has you covered.
JAY SUBEDI: When I came here, the door was open for all opportunities and I keep working hard every day.
ROSE: Jay Subedi owns this store in Syracuse, N.Y. Subedi was born in Bhutan and spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to the U.S. He got a job at Subway. Now he owns this store, a gas station, a house and holds a job with a refugee resettlement agency. Subedi says a lot of refugees share his work ethic.
SUBEDI: Even they don't have any English, even they don't have any skills, they want to work. They come to me and they ask me for the job. Jay, where I can work? I want to work. I went to buy a car. I want to buy a home.
ROSE: Syracuse has become a major destination for refugees from around the world. Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, says refugees are helping revitalize the city's north side, which was home to Italian and German immigrants before them.
STEPHANIE MINER: These people are paying taxes. They're buying houses. They're going into our schools. They create their own businesses, which add economic energy that but for them would not be here.
ROSE: The debate over refugees is usually framed as a clash between humanitarian goals and national security. But the cost of resettlement has become an issue, too. The White House argues it's cheaper for the federal government to help refugees overseas. Here's President Trump speaking at the United Nations earlier this month.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region.
ROSE: Refugees are not free. They use social services, health care, food stamps, cash assistance. A lot of those costs fall on state and local governments, and some states are pushing back. Earlier this year, Tennessee took the federal government to court over refugee resettlement. State Senator John Stevens, a Republican, is one of the plaintiffs. He spoke to member station WPLN in March.
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JOHN STEVENS: The bottom line is the federal government is coercing the state of Tennessee to spend Tennessee taxpayers' monies in ways that some individual Tennesseans disagree with.
ROSE: Economists who've studied this say it's true that refugees can be expensive, especially when they first arrive. William Evans is the chair of the economics department at the University of Notre Dame.
WILLIAM EVANS: The cost associated with resettling refugees once you take into consideration the direct and indirect is something like a $180,000.
ROSE: That's $180,000 per refugee on average. For the first nine years they're in the country, Evan says, refugees tend to be net takers. They cost the government more in social services than they pay in taxes. But then something changes.
EVANS: After that ninth year, they're actually paying more to the governments than they're taking out.
ROSE: Over 20 years, Evans and his colleague found that refugees pay about $20,000 more in taxes than they use in social services.
EVANS: Refugees tend to work at really high rates after a few years in the country. They're paying taxes like everybody else. And I think it's a reasonably positive story.
ROSE: That fits with what researchers at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found. They prepared an internal report this summer that showed refugees brought in $63 billion more in tax revenue than they cost between 2005 and 2014. But the White House never released that report, which was leaked to The New York Times. Now, the Trump administration plans to accept no more than 45,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year, the lowest cap any White House has sought since the president began setting the ceiling on refugee admissions in 1980. Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner thinks that's a mistake.
MINER: There is an investment that you have to make to help them get acculturated, to help them learn the language and learn the culture. But once they do, they are really committed to this country.
ROSE: What Miner wonders is whether this country is committed to them. Joel Rose, NPR News, Syracuse, N.Y.
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