As U.S. plans to raise refugee numbers, The Center in Utica is ready

Apr 26, 2021

After years of cuts and rollbacks, a nonprofit in Utica that helps resettle refugees is hoping to ramp back up this year.

Shelly Callahan, executive director of The Center, said the past few years have been challenging. When Former President Donald Trump took office, he cut the number of refugees the U.S. takes annually in half. It was a major blow to this Utica nonprofit that resettles refugees in the Mohawk Valley region. 

"What the Trump administration did was four years of just really trying to take the program apart," Callahan said. "We went from resettling somewhere between 400 and 500 refugees to 200 and the years since then it's been right around 100."

And because The Center receives federal funding per refugee they resettle, their budget took a major hit, resulting in layoffs and a reduction in services.

New York state stepped in over the past few years to help make up some of the lost funding, allocating $2 million to refugee resettlement services like The Center. That state funding dipped in 2020 because of budget constraints caused by the pandemic, but this year New York is investing a record $3 million in the program.

"So, we have to sort of put the program back together and we are ready to resettle refugees, but I think it's going to be a slow start up to get back to any sort of significant numbers," Callahan said.

After some back and forth this month, the Biden administration has pledged to raise the number of refugees the U.S. takes in annually, but only a few thousand refugees have been welcomed into the U.S. this year. If that pace continues, it could set a record low for the country.

Callahan said they have seen this first hand. The Center has only been able to relocate five refugees this year. She hopes to change those numbers and soon not only for refugees and their families, but for all of Utica as well.

"Utica has been slowly kind of replenishing its population primarily through immigrants and refugees over the past 15 years. We see so much economic revitalization and it’s just unfortunate that this kind of decimation of the refugee program has happened now," She said. "We need to bring it back."