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By Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the top U.S. government officials working on refugee issues will retire from her position this month, according to an email from a refugee advocate seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
Barbara Strack, a career official, will step down on Jan. 20 from her post as chief of the Refugee Affairs Division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the email sent on Tuesday by an official at a coalition of non-governmental organizations working on refugee issues.
The email, which was sent to dozens of advocates and executives at major refugee resettlement agencies, did not give a reason for her retirement, and it was also unclear immediately who would replace her.
The U.S. refugee resettlement programme is under pressure from President Donald Trump, who has called it an expensive endeavour that puts the country at risk. The Refugee Affairs Division, which Strack oversees, includes dozens of officers charged with interviewing refugees abroad for resettlement in the United States.
A USCIS spokesman declined to comment on personnel matters and Strack did not immediately respond to requests for comment through email and LinkedIn.
The email seen by Reuters was sent by Danielle Grigsby, associate director at Refugee Council USA, alerting people in the refugee community of Strack's impending retirement after 26 years of federal government service. Strack's deputy, Mary Stone, will remain at the agency, Grigsby said in the email.
Reached by phone, Stone referred a request for comment to the USCIS spokesman.
"Her leadership will be sorely missed within our community," Grigsby said in a separate email to Reuters.
Strack discussed her work at USCIS at a career talk with University of Michigan law students in 2011.
"Every day, I get to work on a mission I believe in," Strack said, according to an article on the law school's website. "I think I have the best job at the Department of Homeland Security."
In its first year, the Trump administration has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country and put in place new vetting and security requirements that have created an additional barrier. Last year, the administration said it planned to divert some refugee officers to instead interview asylum applicants already in the United States, in an effort to cut down on a burgeoning backlog of asylum cases.
Administration officials cited the asylum backlog as one reason it was necessary to cut the 2017 refugee admissions cap to 45,000, the lowest level since the modern U.S. refugee programme was established in 1980.
Opponents of refugee resettlement say it raises national security risks to the United States and is expensive. Advocates say refugees are vetted thoroughly and end up being a boon to their new communities.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by David Gregorio)