Walking into my internship at Samaritas the Tuesday after the EO was signed was an experience of mixed emotions. The atmosphere was heavy and my conversations with staff members included tears, confusion, and frustration. In this post, I will attempt to describe the local effects of President Trump’s Executive Order regarding immigration and refugees. The Grand Rapids community, a historical hub for refugee resettlement, has certainly taken a hit because of it.
So, the Monday following the EO, Samaritas staff had a conference call with their VOLAG sponsors (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services & Episcopal Migration Ministries), that was filled with uncertainly. The vague conclusion to the call? As quoted by Samaritas staff, “VOLAGs are working hard to figure out what the hell is going on.” They were informed that they could not guarantee Matching Grant funding, so clients who have been resettled within the past 90-days may not have access to Matching Grant benefits (see last post). Both clients and staff are feeling the blow. Samaritas staff were informed that if funding for LIRS and EMM is cut, Samaritas too would face budget cuts, staff cuts, etc. When your boss says he will support you in looking for other jobs, you expect the worst, yet everything is still surrounded in mystery. What they did know, however, is that they were allowed to resettled through Thursday of that week (February 2nd) and had 2 more arrivals, both from the Congo, before they “go dark” as Samaritas staff put it. As of the 27th, any arrivals from the seven banned countries were immediately cancelled, but anyone else already in-progress was allowed to enter, as their airplane tickets had already been purchased.
Knowing that, here are some numbers to consider:
Of the new refugee acceptance ceiling of 50,000 for 2017 FY, around 36,000 have already been resettled (the fiscal year is Oct. 1 2016 → Sept. 30, 2017). That means, that after the 120-day ban on all refugees is lifted in May, the United States will resettled a meager total of around 14,000 more refugees from May to September. Split that number (14,000) between the nine major VOLAGs and the 350+ sub-agencies around the nation, and Samaritas and Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids will probably resettle around 100 refugees. To put that in perspective with last fiscal year, Samaritas alone, resettled 576 individuals and Bethany Christian resettled a similar amount, making the total resettled in GR over 1,000. Want more numbers? GR will resettle 10% of what they did last year.
After the EO, Samaritas saw a lot of community support, but without clients, what can they do with said support?
Chris Cavanaugh, resettlement program director at Samaritas, spoke on Stateside Michigan Radio about the challenges that refugees in the area are facing in the wake of Trump’s EO. He said, “I wish we had extreme vetting of [politicians] as much as we do for refugees.” Please listen to the 10-minute conversation HERE, it’s worth it.
Refugees bring great diversity and unique talent and tradition to the Grand Rapids community and are unparalleled models of human resiliency and dedicated hard work. When our refugee neighbors apply these traits toward a wealth of ambitious dreams, they make West Michigan ever more rich. I urge you not to forget their important and invaluable roles in our community and greater society.