How Trump’s latest blocked travel ban is still creating havoc for refugee families
President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban may have been blocked by a Hawaii judge Wednesday before it went into effect, but it has still managed to wreak havoc on refugees.
The new ban is slightly narrower in scope than Trump’s first one, which was struck down by a federal judge shortly after it was implemented. But it’s very similar; had it taken effect, it would have prohibited citizens of six Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and halted the resettlement of all refugees — regardless of where they’re from — for at least 120 days.
The recent ruling covers the ban’s refugee component, but the “resettlement pipeline” isn’t a spigot that can easily be turned off and on. It takes 18 to 24 months of interviews and background checks for refugees to qualify to come to the U.S., and then resettlement agencies must still coordinate logistics with the State Department, which takes even more time.
“We’re actually just leaving refugees who are supposed to come to us completely stranded with no alternative option,” Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters earlier this week. “They are in danger because of this reduction.”
There are about 6,000 approved refugees in the pipeline and thousands more still in limbo, according to Doss, whose agency was part of the lawsuit against the ban. Due to the uncertainty created by the travel bans, he said the resettlement process has “come to a virtual standstill.” Some who are cleared to travel now could have their permission expire by the time the wheels are put back in motion.
Earlier this week, when implementation of the ban appeared imminent, VICE News spoke to Pierre, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who asked to be identified by a pseudonym due to his concerns about the safety of family members who are still in Africa. He resettled in Virginia with his wife and younger sons the week before Trump’s first ban took effect in late January — but he has three adult sons who are stuck in Burundi, a war-torn country east of the Congo.
One of his sons had already been approved for resettlement in the U.S., but had to cancel his travel plans because of Trump’s ban.
“I worry,” Pierre said. “I’m scared of them dying while we are here. I want my family to be complete again.”
The International Refugee Assistance Project shared the story of Yousif Al-Timimi, an Iraqi forced to flee his country because his work for the U.S. government put him in danger. He obtained a Special Immigrant Visa and resettled in the U.S. in 2014 but had to leave his mother and three brothers behind. Timimi’s family members are currently in the resettlement pipeline, but their fate is now unclear.
“The first ban was really devastating and would basically ruin all of our hopes to have a family reunion,” Timimi said. “The second ban is still viewed, at least by us, as leaving many obstacles on our way to have our family rescued.”
Juliane Ramic, senior director for refugee and community integration at Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, described the case of Yasser, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee in Philadelphia who is waiting to reunite with his family members. She said his family has twice been forced to postpone their resettlement because of Trump’s orders.
“He arrived expecting parents and younger siblings to come right after, they were booked to arrive the week after the [original] signing,” Ramic said. “They were deleted and re-booked and deleted. What we were told is they’re not a top priority. We don’t know what a priority would be, but a son reuniting with his family is a priority for us.”
In addition to halting resettlement, Trump’s order seeks to cap the total number of refugees the U.S. will accept this year at 50,000, less than half the 110,000 planned by the Obama administration and a fraction of the 1.2 million refugees who need to be resettled worldwide in 2017, according to the latest United Nations estimate. As part of the challenge to the ban, refugee groups argued that Trump’s order violates administrative rules that require U.S. refugee quotas to be set in advance so that agencies can adjust their staffs and budgets.
The Trump administration claims the order’s restrictions are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks while the government decides how to overhaul the security screening process, but there have been no fatal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil committed by refugees since Congress established vetting procedures in 1980. Since then, the U.S. has resettled more than 3 million people fleeing war and persecution.