Resettlement Groups Glad For Stay Of Trump's Refugee Plan, But Still Worried

Feb 6, 2017

Many resettlement agencies are relieved refugees can once again come to the U.S. now that a federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump's executive order that suspended the refugee program. So far, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request by the Trump administration to restore the temporary refugee ban.

But this open door to refugees could close at some point depending on what the courts decide. Many refugees and workers at resettlement agencies are stuck in limbo.

"I don't know how long I will have this job, because we are thinking there will be some layoffs if this continues," says Omar Mohamed, a case manager for Church World Service of Lancaster, Pa.

Local agencies worry they will no longer get the federal funding they need to provide services not only to new arrivals, but also to refugees still getting settled into their new country. Mohamed says there's still a lot of work for case managers to do with refugees after they move into their new homes.

"Everything is new to them — this new culture, new people, new language," he says. "We have to teach them from zero."

Mohamed Muhumed's family arrived in the U.S. about three weeks ago. He recently moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Lancaster with his wife and their four children.

An orphan at three years old, Muhumed fled Somalia and waited 23 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia to be resettled. In 2014, after multiple interviews and security screenings, he finally moved, by himself, to central Pennsylvania, where he now works as a fork-lift driver.

His wife and children joined him in Lancaster 10 days before Trump announced his temporary ban on refugees.

"I feel very, very happy," says Muhumed, who adds that his family had "good luck" to arrive before Trump's executive order.

In Philadelphia, Paw Wah doesn't know if she'll ever see her family reunited. She escaped persecution as a member of the Karen community, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Last year she moved out of a refugee camp in Thailand with her husband and their three young children, leaving behind their eldest daughter.

Wah was planning to make a meal of fish paste, vegetables and soup to welcome her daughter to Philadelphia in late January — until Trump issued his refugee order.

The flight to the U.S. for Wah's daughter was canceled and hasn't been rebooked yet, according to staff at the Nationalities Service Center, a refugee resettlement agency in Philadelphia that would help her once she gets off the plane.

Betsy Jenson coordinates donations and volunteers for the agency. She says that while they're waiting for more refugees, they're certainly prepared, given the uptick in donations of clothing, furniture and household goods they've received since Trump's election. They've also heard from a lot of people in Philadelphia who want to help.

"We actually just closed off our volunteer applications for the moment, just because we've sort of reached capacity," Jenson says.

In Lancaster, a group of leaders from different refugee communities recently met to discuss what more they can do.

"We, the refugees and immigrants that are qualified to vote, we have to show at the polling stations in numbers, because politicians look at numbers," said Joseph Sackor, a former refugee who fled civil war in Liberia before he became a U.S. citizen.

Sackor added that it's time for more refugees to register to vote once they get citizenship and to reach out to elected officials — for themselves and for others hoping to build a new life in America.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The legal battle over the executive order means refugees and local resettlement agencies in the U.S. are facing uncertainty. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang checked in with some refugee groups in Pennsylvania and has this report.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Many resettlement agencies are relieved refugees can once again come to the U.S. now that a federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump's executive order that suspended the refugee program. But this open door could close at any moment depending on what the appeals court decides. That leaves many refugees and workers at resettlement agencies in limbo, including Omar Mohamed. He's a case manager for Church World Service of Lancaster, Pa.

OMAR MOHAMED: I don't know how long I will have this job because we are thinking of there will be some layoffs if this continues.

WANG: These local agencies worry they will no longer get the federal funding they need to provide services not only to new arrivals but also to refugees still getting settled into their new country.

MOHAMED: We are going to visit a Somali family that came recently.

WANG: How recently?

MOHAMED: I think they came three weeks ago.

WANG: Omar Mohamed says there's still a lot of work for case managers to do with refugees.

MOHAMED: Everything is new to them - this new culture, new people, new language. We have to teach them from zero.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

MOHAMED: Hi, Mohamed.

MOHAMED MUHAMED: Good morning.

WANG: Mohamed Muhamed recently moved into this three-bedroom apartment with his wife and their four kids. Muhamed fled Somalia when he was 3 years old. He waited 23 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia to be resettled. And in 2014, after multiple interviews and security screenings, he finally moved by himself to central Pennsylvania, where he now works as a forklift driver. His wife and children joined him here 10 days before Trump announced his temporary ban on refugees.

MUHAMED: They good luck.

WANG: You feel like you have good luck?

MUHAMED: Yeah, I feel very, very happy. I laughing (laughter).

WANG: In Philadelphia, Paw Wah doesn't know if she'll ever see her family reunited. She escaped persecution as a member of the Karen community, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Last year, she moved out of a refugee camp in Thailand with her husband and their three young children. They left behind their eldest daughter, who's 25.

Paw Wah planning to make a meal of fish paste, vegetables and soup to welcome her daughter to Philadelphia last month until Trump issued his refugee order. She and her daughter talked on the phone recently. She explains in Karen.

PAW WAH: (Through interpreter) Sometimes we talk about her departure from Thailand. But later on, the traveling was canceled.

WANG: And her flight hasn't been rebooked yet. Her case is being handled by the Nationalities Service Center. That's the refugee resettlement agency in Philadelphia that would help her once she gets off the plane. Betsy Jenson works at the center. She says that while they're waiting for more refugees, they're certainly prepared. They've seen an uptick of donations in clothing, furniture and household goods since Trump's election.

BETSY JENSON: Things would be going out, and new things would be coming in constantly. But we're sort of in this place of, like, everything's kind of...

WANG: Just sitting here.

JENSON: Yeah, just sitting here, waiting, waiting for families.

WANG: Jenson says they've also heard from a lot of people in Philadelphia who want to help.

JENSON: We actually just closed off our volunteer applications for the moment just because we've sort of reached capacity.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So let's begin (unintelligible).

WANG: Back in Lancaster, a group of leaders from different refugee communities recently met to discuss what more they can do. Joseph Sackor is a former refugee who fled civil war in Liberia before he became a U.S. citizen.

JOSEPH SACKOR: We, the refugees and immigrants that are qualified to vote - we have to show at the polling stations in numbers.

WANG: Sackor says it's time for more refugees to register to vote once they get citizenship and to reach out to elected officials for themselves and for others hoping to build a new life in America. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.