President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday temporarily banning the resettlement of refugees in the U.S. — and suspended visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries.
Texas resettles roughly 7,000 refugees a year, more than many other states. Non-profits who work in helping those families get on their feet here in Texas say Trump’s executive order was “abrupt” and has left both federal and local agencies scrambling to figure out what happens next.
“We have not yet heard additional details from the agencies that are directly involved with this program, so I am sure they are doing a lot of work on their end to understand how to manage, how to adapt to this new information — to these new instructions,” says Aaron Rippenkroeger of Refugee Services of Texas (RST). “We expect we will be hearing from them quite a lot in the coming days.”
Trump's executive order also complicates and already complicated situation here in Texas.
Last fall, the state of Texas officially withdrew from the federal Refugee Resettlement Program, after a disagreement with the Obama Administration over vetting of Syrian refugees.
“Texas has repeatedly requested that the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Director of National Intelligence provide assurances that refugees resettled in Texas will not pose a security threat, and that the number of refugees resettled in Texas would not exceed the State’s original allocation in fiscal year 2016 – both of which have been denied by the federal government," Governor Greg Abbott wrote in a statement at the time. "As a result, Texas will withdraw from the refugee resettlement program. As governor, I will continue to prioritize the safety of all Texans and urge the federal government to overhaul this severely broken system.”
The state gave the federal government a 120-day heads up so that they could shift some of the state’s services to non-profits, also known as “designated replacements.”
Those 120 days are up on Tuesday.
“We had a big wrinkle when the state of Texas put its announcements out in 2016,” Rippenkroeger explains. “So there is a lot of a lot work, a lot of time, a lot of effort going into that and this is yet another curveball — a seemingly unnecessary curveball.”
Rippenkroeger says the most “disappointing” aspect of all of this is that many refugees who are already living here in Texas were expecting to reunite with family members in the coming days.
“I have no doubt there are going to be a lot heartbreaking stories from families who were expecting to be reunited tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day,” he says. “And there are going to be a lot of heartbreaking stories of individuals who got stuck overseas — caught up in this whatever you want to call it — and at risk of their life. And we are very concerned about the human impact and the humanitarian crisis that this is going to cause.”
RST has already been fielding calls from families concerned about the future of the resettlement program, Rippenkroeger says. Many refugees already living here are asking whether they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. or whether they will be “forced to return to the war torn country” they fled, he says.
But Rippenkroeger says the refugee resettlement program has been through "many ups and downs" in the past several decades, so RST and others are prepared to do this work under tough circumstances. He says even though refugees won't be resettled here in the coming months, there is still work to be done for the families who are already here, as well as other people in need.
"This feels like a dramatic swing," Rippenkroeger says. "I can't say definitively if this is the worst time that this program has been through, but it's rough."
"We are very sorry to see it, particularly because it feels so unnecessary, but here we are and we are going to have to get through it, but we have to continue to do our job and provide the services that we do," Rippenkroeger says.