The Garden City branch of the International Rescue Committee has announced its impending closure in September amid reports of low refugee arrival numbers resultant of national policies enacted by the Trump administration.

Sean Piazza, a senior officer and spokesperson for the IRC’s U.S. Programs division, confirmed the upcoming shuttering on Wednesday. He said the closure is due to “updated guidance from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) at the U.S. State Department, as well as low arrival numbers brought on by misguided policies that will impact U.S. integration efforts.”

The shift comes on the heels of a series of executive orders issued by President Donald Trump to further limit the number of refugees coming into the United States. In September, the administration reduced the previous annual refugee admission limit from 50,000 — a number enacted as part of Trump’s first “travel ban” shortly after his term began last January — to 45,000 in FY 2018, the lowest annual refugee allowance in U.S. history.

The new restriction more than halved the previous number of allowable refugees, which was anticipated to be around 110,000 in 2017.

The suspensions banned travelers from several high-risk and Muslim-majority countries, the latest of which include Syria, Libya, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. The administration announced plans in October to put in place new refugee restrictions and vetting requirements, which remain in effect even as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the ban in April and pass down a ruling by late June.

Since the Trump administration’s newest ban went into effect in October, only 23 people from the 11 targeted nations have entered the U.S, according to a Reuters report.

In November, representatives from the Kansas Office for Refugees joined the International Rescue Committee to host a forum highlighting the ups and downs of the refugee resettlement effort under the Trump administration.

Jessica Stephenson, a program specialist who coordinates refugee resettlement in Kansas through the IRC office on behalf of the KOR, said refugees benefit from medical assistance, medical savings, refugee health promotion, refugee social services, refugee school impact, services for older refugees and English language training through KOR services. It remains to be seen if KOR activities in southwest Kansas will be affected by the IRC office closure.

In fiscal year 2017, 580 refugees entered Kansas compared to 1,194 in Nebraska, 4,700 in Texas and 260 in Oklahoma, according to KOR. The U.S. received a total of 53,716 refugees last year. Of the 580 refugees that settled in Kansas, 14 percent settled directly in southwest Kansas.

Of those refugees, there were 141 from Myanmar, 136 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 121 from Somalia, 55 from Sudan, 32 from Eritrea, 26 from Bhutan, 23 from Ethiopia, 15 from Iraq, 15 from Syria, eight from Iran, three from Afghanistan, three from El Salvador, one from Palestine and one from Nigeria.

“This is not something that we’ve seen before,” Stephenson said in November of the dwindling refugee numbers. “It is in fact a historic low.”

Piazza said Garden City’s IRC branch will do its “due diligence” to ensure that IRC clients are supported through the transition.

“We are grateful for the tremendous community support that IRC has received since opening in 2014, and are humbled by the community’s enthusiasm to ensure the world’s most vulnerable have a chance to make better lives for their families in Garden City,” Piazza said. “The IRC will continue to resettle refugee families in Wichita."

Based on current trends, the IRC projects that just 21,292 refugees will be resettled in the United States in FY 2018, less than half of the Trump administration’s nominal refugee cap of 45,000.

As an example of the implications of those numbers, Syrians fleeing the Syrian war comprised 15 percent of arrivals in the U.S. in FY 2017; thus far in FY 2018, they comprise .05 percent. Meanwhile, 13 percent of refugee arrivals in FY 2018 identify as Muslim, compared to 48 percent in FY 2017, according to the IRC.

Steve Ensz, a pastor at Garden Valley Church (GVC), said the Garden City IRC maintained a storehouse at GVC to help refugee arrivals furnish their homes with basic necessities. He said the IRC provided formal opportunities for refugees through various integration initiatives and community events.

According to Ensz, the storehouse at GVC holds kitchen supplies, clothing and furniture for refugees. He said the prospect of maintaining the operation at the church is a “strong possibility” that will be made more difficult in the absence of an IRC presence.

“I look forward to the community stepping up and filling the void that they’re going to leave,” Ensz said. “It’s going to be difficult because we don’t have the resources. But I think where there’s a will there’s a way that we can help assimilate the refugees and the immigrants in our community to make them feel like they’re part of the community.”

The IRC has been instrumental in facilitating housing and employment opportunities to new arrivals through subsidies intended to quickly enable refugees to become economically self-sufficient.

Garden City Manager Matt Allen noted that the community has been accommodating refugee and immigrant populations for decades, and that while the IRC’s departure will be a loss, Garden City is still equipped to continue assisting those vulnerable populations.

“Anybody that provides a service to a specific segment of that population or to a broader segment of that population is an important piece to making that work as a community,” Allen said. “A loss of any one of them is a setback to that effort, but I’m sure the community will work through what needs to happen in the absence of an IRC presence.”

Organizations like the Kearny County Hospital’s Pioneer Advocacy Team, Garden City Community College’s Adult Learning Center and LiveWell Finney County, among others, all offer services to the refugee and immigrant communities to assist in integration efforts. 

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.