By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
The Supreme Court of the United States decided June 26 to allow parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to be enforced, adding more uncertainty to an already murky future for refugee resettlement agencies in the United States.
Catholic Charities of Louisville staff said the current climate in refugee resettlement feels like a “roller coaster” ride.
Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, Catholic Charities’ newly appointed chief executive officer, said the Supreme Court’s decision “makes worse all the uncertainties” already created by the travel ban. “At least the court clearly said that refugee resettlement of individuals who have family ties to the U.S. must continue,” she said during a phone interview June 27. “We anticipate we will continue to see arrivals.”
In a statement DeJaco Crutcher sent to Catholic Charities staff, June 27, she noted that “69 percent of all 2017 arrivals to date have U.S. ties.” That number “swells to 80 percent when considering our Congolese arrivals,” the statement went on to say.
Refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo form the largest group the agency currently serves, said DeJaco Crutcher, adding, “We’ll continue to do the best work we can.”
President Trump issued an executive order in January — and revised it in March — slashing the number of refugees to be accepted into the U.S. annually from 110,000 to 50,000.
The orders also delay entry into the country to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries and suspended the entry of all refugees for 120 days.
The Supreme Court announced June 26 that it will hear challenges to the executive orders. In the meantime, it has allowed parts of the travel ban to take effect.
Specifically, it allows the U.S. to bar travelers from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen who do not have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” (See story on this page for more information.)
DeJaco Crutcher noted that the number of refugees arriving and being resettled in Kentucky since January has been slower, but steady. Following President Trump’s first travel ban in January, the agency was “braced for this complete stop of entry,” she said.
But that didn’t happen.
So far, 424 refugees have been resettled in Kentucky this fiscal year — which runs from October through September.
At the beginning of the fiscal year, DeJaco Crutcher said, the agency was told it could resettle 700 refugees. After the executive order was issued in January, the agency was told to expect only about 581. Then that number was reduced to 418.
These changing and inaccurate numbers alone, DeJaco Crutcher noted, “explain the roller coaster we’ve been riding for the past six months.” Last year, the agency’s projected resettlement number was 700 and it resettled 730 — a much more predictable situation.
The process through which refugees arrive can be likened to a pipeline, she noted. The U.S. Department of State has the first piece of that pipeline in this country. Individuals are identified as refugees by the United Nations, then the state department begins a “lengthy and arduous” vetting process to determine who comes to the U.S., she said.
After the executive orders were issued in January, Catholic Charities expected a “hard stop” in the pipeline, DeJaco Crutcher said. But staff continued to see refugees trickle in during the months of February and March.
“We thought maybe these were the people who were already in the pipeline, but it seems that at the end of the day there’s not been that blockage in the pipeline,” she said.
Colin Triplett, director of Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services, questions whether that blockage has reached the agency yet.
“That’s where there is so much unknown. There are so many moving parts,” he said. “The question is where is the actual breakdown in the pipeline or is it being replenished? That’s really hard to know.”
Triplett said the refugee resettlement program has been flexible in this changing environment.
“We can adapt, but when we have a number that’s super uncertain, that’s where it’s very difficult to anticipate where to put resources and what resources we have available,” he said.
Funding for refugee resettlement comes from the federal government. And funding is tied directly to each refugee.
When fewer refugees arrive, there is less funding and less need for resettlement staff, said DeJaco Crutcher.
As a result, Catholic Charities recently has whittled down its staff of 46 to 28, said DeJaco Crutcher.
The people who lost their jobs served in various resettlement positions — ranging from medical services to direct case management, said Triplett.
DeJaco Crutcher said the agency is continuing to provide the same services — including case management, English language training and employment services — to clients as before. The agency is making do, she added, with employees taking on additional responsibilities.
Starting July 1, the agency will have a “new organizational chart,” DeJaco Crutcher said, adding that the agency “will be able to proceed through the calendar year without further changes to our staffing.”
Triplett said the resettlement program has taken this “opportunity to look at the structure, look at job duties and reassess how we provide services. I feel like we are providing them in a more efficient way.”
While the uncertainty has challenged Catholic Charities workers, it’s also taken a toll on refugees they’ve resettled here.
Everything refugees have been hearing in the media about the travel ban has added to the “confusion” they’re feeling, said Triplett.
Many are questioning whether they are still safe, whether they will be deported and whether their rights will be respected. All of Catholic Charities refugee clients have family members in refugee camps, said Triplett.
The people still in these camps “live off the hope” that they will be reunited with their loved ones. When refugee resettlement is reduced or certain populations are not allowed entry “it’s devastating to clients,” he said.
DeJaco Crutcher said the situation is “sad” and it’s “not what this country is about.” Refugee resettlement is about family, she said.
“Our church believes so much in the importance of family. This program brings families back together. These are people who want so much to be a part of a stable and fair society and that’s what we promised them,” she said.
Both DeJaco Crutcher and Triplett said they have hope that the future will bring change for the better. Triplett hopes, he said, that others will see the value he sees in refugee resettlement.
“Refugee resettlement benefits the community and enriches our lives,” he said.