UPDATED – CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — Refugee families continue to arrive in the Diocese of Charlotte while President Donald Trump and the courts battle over his executive order temporarily banning travel to the United States by citizens from six Muslim-majority countries 90 days and suspending resettlement of refugees for 120 days.
Since the Trump administration’s initial travel ban was announced Jan. 27, Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte has resettled a total of 45 people, said Susan Jassan, interim director of its Refugee Resettlement Office.
Trump’s first executive order was blocked by the courts, so Trump withdrew it and issued a new executive order March 6 that was blocked by two federal judges hours before it was to take effect March 16. In both orders, Trump reduced the overall number of refugees to be admitted into the United States to 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, down from the 110,000 President Barack Obama had allowed.
Of refugees being resettled in the Charlotte Diocese, the Catholic Charities’ Charlotte office has received nine refugees from Somalia, six refugees from Ukraine, five refugees from Iraq, four refugees from Bhutan, three refugees from Syria, two refugees from Burma and one from Honduras.
During that same time in Asheville, the diocese has received four families, a total of 15 refugees, all from Ukraine, Jassan told the Catholic News Herald, Charlotte’s diocesan newspaper.
Refugees approved for travel prior to March 16 were being allowed to travel to the United States in March, Jassan said. The Charlotte office welcomed three Burmese people and two Bhutanese refugees March 23.
In Asheville, one refugee from Russia arrived March 22 and three refugees from Ukraine arrived March 23, she said.
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.
In 2016, 28 percent of the refugees welcomed by the Charlotte Diocese came from countries banned under the travel order. Most came from Somalia, 44, followed by Syria, 29, Iraq, 18, Sudan, 12, and seven from Iran.
The Trump administration’s initial travel ban was put on hold by the federal courts, following days of protests at cities and airports across the country, as well as criticism from U.S. bishops including Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis.
“We have decades of experience in settling thousands of families fleeing persecution in their native country,” Bishop Jugis said in response to the initial travel ban, which blocked two refugee families from reaching Charlotte. “These people have made a rich contribution to the life and culture of western North Carolina.
“I join with my brother bishops in the effort to work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. As Catholics we respond to the biblical call to welcome the stranger — it is an act of love and hope.”
Those two families were allowed to resettle in Charlotte in February.
After a federal appeals court rejected the Trump administration’s request to reinstate the travel ban, Trump issued a revised order to remove Iraq from the list of Muslim-majority countries affected by the ban. The now-blocked new order would bar citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria from entering the U.S. for 90 days and suspend refugee resettlement for 120 days.
Hours before it was to take effect, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the travel ban. Both judges said by temporarily banning travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries, the Trump order was discriminatory and violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says the government can pass no law that establishes religion or prohibits the free exercise of religion.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a brief notice March 17 that it will appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland, sending the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.
On March 29, U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii extended his nationwide order blocking the executive order indefinitely, rejecting the government’s request he narrow his ruling to apply to only the six-nation ban. The Trump administration is appealing Watson’s latest ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco.
While the court battle continues over Trump’s order, refugees are still being admitted into the United States, though in reduced numbers. As a result, Jassan said, Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte anticipates a reduced workload for the 20-plus employees in Charlotte and three employees in Asheville who work on refugee resettlement.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops runs the largest refugee resettlement program in the United States, and there are 11 staff members in the diocese who receive funding for their positions from the USCCB.
“We are thinking creatively about how to utilize their skills in other areas, looking at the Employment Program and the Youth Program, specifically,” Jassan said.
“We are also hoping to use this time of halted arrivals to evaluate some of our internal processes to improve and streamline some of our methods of serving clients,” she said.
Bender is the online reporter at the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.