Under former President George W. Bush, the highest ceiling on the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. was 80,000. Under Barack Obama, it was 110,000. President Donald Trump set this year's cap at 45,000.
“And based on the numbers so far, we're looking at less than half that many that we were told would be allowed into the country," says Harold Schlechtweg, the advocacy coordinator with the International Rescue Committee in Kansas.
In just a few months, Trump will set next year’s cap on refugee admissions into the U.S. And Schlechtweg is working to influence what that cap is.
He’s been meeting with community groups and members of the Legislature and Congress to build support for refugees in the state. He says the IRC, along with eight other resettlement agencies across the U.S., want to see the cap raised to 75,000 — the same number they recommended last year.
"Kansas can absorb its share of that 75,000," Schlechtweg says. "We can absorb [them] in Kansas certainly and we think the country can absorb them. We're a country of 300 million people. We can clearly get 75,000."
Under then-Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas withdrew from the federal refugee resettlement program in 2016, citing security concerns. A separate agency, the Kansas State Office of Refugees, was established to work with the U.S. State Department to help settle refugees in the state via several resettlement organizations, including the IRC.
Schlechtweg says taking in more refugees isn't just in the spirit of "American values," but will benefit the U.S.'s international interests by taking the stress off of other countries taking in large numbers of refugees, like Jordan, and keeping other regions stable.
Though the cap is ultimately determined by the president, Schlechtweg says building support from the ground up could help send a message to Trump.
"We think that he will listen if people at the grassroots level begin to express support for refugees," Schlechtweg says, "so that's our strategy right now is to build that kind of support very patiently."
Another target is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran sits on and which oversees spending.
"They actually don't make that decision, but they can provide some influence," Schlechtweg says. "We feel that we have to go out there and we have to make that argument and then we feel the more people who are working with us to make that argument then the more chances of success we will have."
A determination is expected in September before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.