CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — At least two refugee families expected to be welcomed by the Diocese of Charlotte the week of Jan. 30 will not be coming to the United States because of President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive memorandum.
“The Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” which suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days, bans entry from all citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days. It also establishes religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.
Trump’s action, intended to restrict the entry of terrorists into the United States, brought an outcry from Catholic leaders in the diocese and across the country and led to protests at airports and cities across the country, including Charlotte, Asheville, Greensboro and Raleigh.
According to diocesan spokesman David Hains, the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office has been told that “one family from Syria will not be coming and one family from Somalia will not be coming.”
“We are also expecting a Bhutanese family but have not heard if that family will not be coming,” he said Jan. 30.
It’s not known yet exactly what will happen to the Syrian family of three and the Somali family of four who were expected to arrive Jan. 30-31, said Susan Jassan, interim director of the Refugee Resettlement Office.
Before they may travel to the United States, refugees must pass health and security screenings, she said. Those clearances are good only for a limited amount of time. She was unsure if they will be resettled elsewhere or placed back in refugee camps.
With offices in Charlotte and Asheville, the diocesan Catholic Charities agency works in partnership with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees fleeing war, political upheaval, or religious, economic or ethnic persecution. In 2016, the agency resettled 419 refugees and asylees, and last October alone, five Syrian families were welcomed to western North Carolina through those offices.
Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Office provides services to help refugees adapt to their adopted homeland by becoming self-sufficient, productive members of their community. They provide housing assistance, job training and counseling help, school registration, health care referrals, community and cultural orientation, budgeting and financial education, interpretation services and referrals to English as a Second Language classes, and more.
“It is very disappointing to learn that two refugee families scheduled to arrive in Charlotte this week have been turned away,” Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis said in a statement. “We have decades of experience in settling thousands of families fleeing persecution in their native country. These people have made a rich contribution to the life and culture of western North Carolina.”
North Carolina was among the top 10 states that welcomed refugees last year — taking in 3,342 refugees in fiscal year 2016, according to U.S. State Department data analyzed by the Pew Research Center.
It’s not known how many refugees would have been resettled in the diocese over the next four months, Jassan said, because the system that communicated information to the diocese about upcoming arrivals has been suspended. However, during this same 120-day period last year, 158 refugees were settled in the Charlotte Diocese. It’s safe to assume another 150 people would have come over next few months, she said.
In 2016, 28 percent of the refugees welcomed by the diocese came from countries banned under Trump’s order. Most came from Somalia, 44, followed by Syria, 29, Iraq, 18, Sudan, 12, and Iran, seven.
According to the USCCB, the maximum number of refugees expected to be taken in this fiscal year has been reduced from 110,000 to 50,000. As of Jan. 23, 35,889 refugees out of that 50,000 have already been welcomed, leaving approximately 14,000 refugee slots available once the administration’s temporary order is lifted in four months.
Of that 14,000, the USCCB expects to handle about 3,000 cases, Catholic Charities officials said, and those will be distributed among the dioceses. Refugee families with ties in the U.S. or who have U.S. sponsors — which represent about 75 percent of the cases the Charlotte agency handles — might still be able to resettle here, but Catholic Charities officials said they are unsure of specifics right now.
“This is going to hurt our communities,” Jassan told the Catholic News Herald, Charlotte’s diocesan newspaper. “I think it’s going to have very detrimental and reverberating effects throughout our communities. That is our biggest concern. It’s going to affect refugees who were going to come here, families who have now been split apart. It’s going to affect all of us in the community who are impacted by refugees who don’t even know they are.
“Refugees are small-business owners, hard workers throughout the diocese. They attend our schools and bring multiculturalism to the classroom,” she continued. “So many of our clients, when they get here, are incredibly grateful and they spread that message to their families back in the (refugee) camps. Even in light of the executive order, I hope they are able to still spread that message because the amount of kindness and warmth they experience here.”
Mercy Sister Rose Marie Tresp, director of justice for the Sisters of Mercy South Central Community in Belmont, said she encourages everyone to contact their congressional representatives as well as the president about this issue.
“The action doesn’t make a lot of sense, actually. It’s promoting paranoia. Refugees coming to this country are vetted by the United Nations as well as the U.S. while in refugee camps. Often the process takes years. They’re against the things we’re against. They’re fleeing governments we don’t support,” Sister Rose Marie said.
During the next four months, Jassan said the diocese’s Refugee Resettlement Office will be working to support and comfort those refugees already in this country.
“Pretty soon, we’ll find out from USCCB how many we’ll receive after this 120-day (temporary halt) through end of the federal fiscal year,” she said. “From that, we’ll be able to gauge how much we need to amp up (resources) to meet whatever that number is. So It’s a combination of planning and just taking things day by day, really looking out for those already in the country and trying to make them feel welcome.”
She urged everyone to “advocate for refugee settlement. Those who are able can also give financial donations and volunteer, focusing on welcoming the refugees who are here. Having people who already live here to help these families sends a strong message.”
More than 20 people work in the Refugee Resettlement Office in Charlotte and three in Asheville, Jassan said. A lot of them are former refugees themselves or have worked with refugees for decades, and funding for their positions is tied to the number of refugees that the diocese resettles.
With Trump’s order, Jassan said, their jobs could be in jeopardy. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to try to keep people employed. We have 11 staff members who receive funding for their positions from the USCCB.”
Bender is the online reporter at the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.