In January of 2017, Marketplace traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania to do a live show the day before President Trump’s inauguration as part of our series The Big Promise. The particular politics of Erie, voting twice for President Obama and then for Trump, have made it a microcosm of the larger political and socioeconomic climate in America. That includes the way its economy has changed over the past couple of decades — specifically, the number of immigrants and refugees who joined the workforce.
During the live show last January, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Dylanna Jackson, the director of the International Institute in Erie, about what she thought the future of refugee resettlement looked like under the Trump Administration. Marketplace checked in with Jackson to see where things stand now. The following is an edited transcript.
Kai Ryssdal: So when we did the live show from Erie a year ago — I went back and I listened before we came into the studio — you said you were hopeful that things would continue the way they had been going in refugee admissions to this country. How are you feeling now?
Dylanna Jackson: Well I’m still going to go with “hopeful” because I think sometimes that’s all you can do. But you know we definitely have been disappointed with what we’ve seen happening especially the first quarter of our new year.
Ryssdal: What are you hearing from your clients, from the folks that you assist, from the folks that you interact with on a day to day basis?
Jackson: You know, I think they’re trying to hold on to hope as well. I think they’re disappointed as well. You know, we’re talking about families and family reunification. So, you know, I think individuals are just a little at a loss for what’s going to happen and how their future looks as far as seeing certain family members.
Ryssdal: When you go out and you’re out getting a cup of coffee, or you’re driving to work, what does it look like in Erie nowadays? I mean, are you seeing “For Rent” signs? Are you seeing “Help Wanted” signs? What are the anecdotal indicators of entry-level economics there?
Jackson: Erie as a community has stayed extremely supportive. You know, we have a new mayor that’s intentionally naming refugees and immigrants as part of the solution in our Erie Refocus plan. So, that part of it is very positive. But, you know, we have landlords with empty apartments and employers who are not able to fill positions efficiently and effectively. And, as an agency we’ve definitely had to do some layoffs and restructuring in order to meet the new current reality.
Ryssdal: Well talk to me about that a little bit, right? Because if there aren’t refugees coming to this country in the numbers you’re accustomed to, you clearly don’t have the staffing need you used to?
Jackson: Right. What we’ve seen so far is — we know overall there would be a decrease. But we’re really just hoping that the president is going to keep to the 45,000 [refugees] that he committed to this year and that we’ll start to see some of those arrival trends pick up and change to meet that number. If we stay on projection, we won’t.
Ryssdal: So here comes the touchier question: why do you have hope that the president is going to stick to a commitment when he is known to change his mind on immigration virtually within a day?
Jackson: Well I think it’s that change that I’ll hope will… you know, we have a strong network. We have a lot of individuals really pulling for us and being vocal. As a country it’s what we do and it’s the right thing to do. So I’m hopeful that those voices will get through.
Ryssdal: So we’re at the year mark now in the Trump administration, there are three more years to go. What are those years going to hold for you?
Jackson: A lot of uncertainty, a lot of uncertainty.