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Executive orders mean layoffs for resettlement agencies

A headshot of Judi Harris
St. Vincent Catholic Charities
Judi Harris is the director of St. Vincent Catholic Charities Refugee Services.

The executive orders on immigration directly impact immigrants and refugees trying to come to the US and those living here already. But the orders are also causing problems for organizations who support refugees.



Judi Harris is the director of St. Vincent Catholic Charities Refugee Services in Lansing. She says there are several different aspects to the executive orders.

“There’s the full travel ban, which kind of affects anybody who would be traveling and from certain countries, but then there's this other whole piece of it which directly affects refugee resettlement. The first one of those is the delay. There's a call for a 120 day delay on all refugee resettlement from everywhere. And during that time presumably there will be a revision and a a reestablishment of vetting procedures. And then the other piece of that that will be hurting us is the overall reduction in the number of refugees coming in for the rest of 2017 and 2018 probably.”

And this impacts St. Vincent and other refugee resettlement organizations because they are based on a per-capita funding structure.

“All of that greatly reduces the number of refugees that we'll be receiving, and that in turn reduces our budget. So we've had to do some staff reductions and layoffs and reorganizing while we're still trying to serve the people who are here, the people who have already arrived” Harris says.

It goes beyond just St. Vincent. Harris says the community and the organizations they partner with when resettling refugees are impacted too.

“We work with a lot of different landlords and different apartment complexes and different landlords around the city and some of them have called us and said ‘what are we going to do? Who are we going to put in our housing?’ Because they rely on us because there's a lot of folks who move in and out, and a lot of the low income places who have been very kind to the whole community, they need people to be coming in and keeping their units full. And also a lot of our employers, we work with some big companies who look forward to having a steady stream of people who come in. A lot of refugees will start off in an entry level job and they'll work hard and after they learn English, they learn a few more things, they'll move up. And so these companies need the steady flow of people coming in and keeping their businesses running.”

But Harris says not to forget that those who are hurt the most are the refugees themselves. She says many families get separated in this process, and the executive orders are adding more uncertainty.

“So we have people who came here and they're expecting family members to come join them, that's a common strategy. So somebody in the family will come first, because when you look at how the refugee situation happens, you have a whole family who's left their country and maybe they've moved from country to country looking for safety, so before they make the decision for everybody to come here not knowing if it's a safe place, maybe one person will come and then bring the rest of the family later. And so now we have families who are separated and so we'll have maybe the father here, or a child here who's waiting to bring their parents or the rest of their family, and they're indefinitely separated. And we know they'll be permanently separated for at least the next 120 days. And with this large reduction we just have no idea how many people will be coming overall.”

Harris says that this is a humanitarian situation above all else.

“Because we know that refugee resettlement saves lives, we know that because we see the stories and we hear the stories of people who are coming in, and many of our folks kind of came in at the last minute and they were suffering in refugee camps, and there's a lot of data that shows how tragic these camps are and there's not enough money and there's not enough food and people are abused and children are trafficked and they're terrible places, and the main reason we do this is to get people out of those situations.”

One refugee woman from Northern Africa who works with St. Vincent says these executive orders impact her personally, even though she has already lived here for several years and is not from one of the countries listed in the ban. She wishes to remain anonymous and she explains why.

“Because now we feel like we are targeted, not from the ban but from people. I love Lansing, it's very friendly people, but the last thing that happened showed us that it's not all about good people there a lot of bad people. It's not just about Muslims- they hate everything that is different from them.”

She says she is troubled by the fear and ignorance she sees, but she believes it will be defeated in the end.

“I believe in love, and I believe that all people are the same- all people. So, for me... even if we feel like it's hard, it's a hard road to go in because it's hatred and threats and then you cannot sleep, nightmares... but at the end it's always love who trumps…”

She laughs.

“I don't want to even use that word but, but yeah.”

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