By Susan Krehbiel, PDA Associate for Refugees and Asylum
Late yesterday the US Federal District Court put a stop to the Trump Administration’s latest attempt to dismantle the US refugee program by issuing a temporary injunction against Executive Order 13888 (EO 13888). This injunction bars dissenting state and local governments from preventing resettlement in their jurisdiction, removing a de facto veto power from governors and county executives.
EO 13888, issued last fall, is just one of several decisions that made 2019 a watershed year in the reversal of humanitarian refugee policies. In response, three faith-based resettlement organizations decided to sue the government for an injunction. As I sat in the US District Court last week and listened to the different presentations and the questions from the judge, I realized that EO13888 puts the very nature of refugee resettlement at stake. And that is because the US resettlement program, as established in the 1980 Refugee Act, was defined from the beginning as a public-private partnership. The very nature of how US resettlement is carried out requires an enormous web of collaboration and coordination among and between public servants and non-governmental staff and local community members. And that can only take place with a very high level of personal trust and public goodwill built over time.
Before refugees even arrive on US soil, they share a significant amount of personal information, much of it sensitive, requiring their trust it will be handled appropriately. Refugees must have enormous faith that the decisions US government officials and voluntary agency representatives make will be in their best interest. Local resettlement agencies spend hours of staff and volunteer time and thousands of dollars preparing for the arrival of a new refugee family, trusting that the refugees will show up, and the financial resources will follow. They also trust that the relationships they have built with local government, community leaders, and other refugees will continue and extend to the newest arrivals. And the trust, that goodwill from local governments and the local community? That is based on the resettlement staff’s ability to provide reliable and accurate information as well as to negotiate with local stakeholders about how resettlement will happen within their communities. The local organization is ultimately responsible for ensuring all these pieces come together for successful resettlement.
Under EO13888, to be approved, resettlement organizations are required to obtain a formal letter of acceptance from every Governor and County where they plan to resettle refugees. During the court arguments last week, the attorney for the Department of Justice argued that the Department of State could decide to approve resettlement in a State that has refused to accept resettled refugees. As the judge noted, what would be the point of asking for consent if the federal government would allow resettlement there anyway? And how could a resettlement organization, in good faith, request approval when a Governor has not consented, or in the case of Texas, explicitly refused?
How would a local resettlement director ensure ongoing goodwill from state and local offices necessary for effective resettlement? How might such actions jeopardize the situation of refugees already residing in the state? How would an organization protect its reputation as a local leader if it openly defied the Governor’s decision and sought permission to resettle anyway? It wouldn’t. Because refugees are not resettled into boxes or caves, they are resettled into communities. And in resettlement, they intersect with almost every public sector in addition to the many community connections such as churches, synagogues, civic organizations, refugee associations, and other local groups.
Numerous interruptions to refugee resettlement procedures in the past two years have made it increasingly difficult for resettlement organizations to provide reliable and accurate information to other stakeholders. Turning the complex placement decisions into a political hot potato makes the successful resettlement and integration of refugees that much more unlikely. Thank you, Judge Messitte, for recognizing what was at stake and siding with the resettlement organizations by blocking this Executive Order.
For more information on the Court’s injunction and a statement from Church World Service, click here.
A statement from Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance:
E pluribus unum— out of the many, one— has long been the guiding vision of our nation, a vision that acknowledges both the diverse and varied heritages of our people as well as the dance of interdependence among communities, individuals, and states that is required in order to keep our union strong. There is nowhere in our common life more illustrative of this reality—and more vulnerable to its failure—than the practices of resettlement through which refugees are welcomed into these United States. The unified efforts of the federal government, states, and welcoming communities is critical to the important work of resettlement— a work that is broadly affirmed and embraced by American citizens across a wide range of religious and political perspectives and other affiliations.