Rutland refugee resettlement future is uncertain
By Adam Federman, VTDigger
A federal court ruling in Washington state on Friday, Feb. 3, rescinded nearly all of the provisions of the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration, including the suspension of refugee resettlement.
Anyone with a valid unexpired visa can now enter the country, and agencies that work with refugees are scrambling to rebook flights for those individuals who had been scheduled to fly to the United States last week when the travel ban went into effect.
Vermont is slated to resettle about 450 refugees in the current fiscal year. Rutland was expecting to take in up to 100 Syrians and Iraqis when the immigration order went into effect Jan. 27. The first two families, one from Damascus and the other from Aleppo, Syria, had arrived the week before.
A spokesperson for the State Department said the refugee bureau was working closely with legal advisers as well as interagency and overseas partners to comply with the order.
Although 15 to 20 refugees from Bhutan and Burma are scheduled to arrive in Chittenden County this week, according to VPR, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said Rutland is not expected to receive any additional Syrian refugees.
Stacie Blake, director of government and community relations at USCRI, said even before the executive order went into effect, there were no Syrian refugee families set to travel to Rutland during this time.
“As it happens we did not have more arrivals booked for Rutland so there are not people to rebook,” said Blake. “What we know is that refugees who’ve been approved by the full system will be starting to arrive across the country today.”
If the Seattle judge’s order is upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it is possible that Syrian refugee resettlement in Rutland will continue.
According to Melanie Nezer, vice president of policy and advocacy at HIAS, more than 1,500 refugees were expected to arrive in the country last week. A provision in the executive order that allowed for exceptions on a case-by-case basis meant that about 875 refugees were allowed entry.
Nezer said that while the court order was a welcome development, aid agencies were still dealing with the ramifications of the travel ban. “Mostly what we’ve been doing is dealing with the fallout, because there’s no way to reverse that,” Nezer said.
Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said it is difficult and complicated to rebook flights for refugees. First they cannot make their own travel arrangements. Flights are booked through the International Organization for Migration in consultation with the U.S. Government.
“Obviously it’s a pretty massive logistical process for the folks at [the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees] and the [International Organization on Migration] because they had just booked flights and then canceled them,” Fisher said. “Now they’re trying to get refugees back on.”
Many refugee families that booked travel last week had sold nearly all of their belongings and given up their apartments or homes to raise the money for plane tickets. “People had journeyed for days and given up everything,” said Nezer.
According to Nezer, more than 100 refugees are expected to arrive in the country today.
“It’s as if the ban is not in effect so refugees can continue to come from any country including the seven countries identified in the executive order,” Nezer said.
However, the judge’s ruling did not reverse the Trump administration’s decision to reduce the total number of refugees permitted to enter the country in the current federal fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. Under Obama the State Department had committed to resettling 110,000 refugees; Trump has cut that number down to 50,000. By the end of this week, the United States is expected to have resettled more than 32,000 refugees.
The judge’s ruling has been appealed by the Justice Department and briefings are being filed Feb. 6. The case will be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on an expedited basis.