Three refugee families from Syria and Afghanistan that had been approved to relocate to Ithaca are in limbo after President Donald Trump’s executive order halted all refugee admissions for 120 days and indefinitely suspended the admission of refugees from Syria, a local charity said Monday.
Renee Spear, executive director of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, said the charity had planned to bring up to a dozen refugee families to Ithaca this year and that Trump’s “unconscionable” executive order should be immediately rescinded.
“We are heartbroken for these parents and their children who had come so close to escaping the misery and precariousness of their life situation,” Spear said in a statement.
Sue Chaffee, Director of Immigrant Services Program, told The Sun that the charity had already accepted a vetted family of six from Afghanistan and two families from Syria. The new executive order puts an indefinite hold on the Syrian families, who are currently in refugee settlement camps in Jordan, Chaffee said, and at least a 120-day hold on the family of six in Afghanistan.
“Of course we are worried about the safety and well-being for the families we were hoping to resettle,” Chaffee said. “It’s troubling that this executive order pretty much stops everything that has been put into motion that would have brought them to a safe environment; instead it just creates more upheaval and havoc in their lives.”
The executive order, signed by Trump on Friday afternoon, has sparked protests throughout the country — from Syracuse to Seattle to Miami — after hundreds were detained flying into the U.S.
A Cornell alumnus and lawyer in Seattle, Joe Shaeffer ’92, was part of a team of seven lawyers who successfully petitioned for the release of two men from Sudan and Yemen who had been held at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, The Sun previously reported.
Catholic Charities had planned to bring up to 50 refugees to Ithaca under a U.S. Department of State grant that provides the charity with $2,025 for each refugee it relocates, much of which goes directly to the families to cover costs like rent.
Chaffee told The Sun earlier this month that she was excited to welcome the first family from Afghanistan and the charity was hopeful they would arrive in February at the latest.
Now, the charity’s immediate plans have been scrapped as its directors work to understand the full impact of Trump’s executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which also bans citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days.
“We continue to await more specific details on the executive order before we can make any announcements on our program and when we will be receiving refugee families,” Chaffee said. “We do know that we are committed to the mission of bringing refugees to the Ithaca area.”
Spear asked community members to voice their opposition to the travel ban by calling their representatives and advocating “for compassionate welcome for people fleeing war and violence.”
Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr, law, decried Trump’s order in an interview with CNN on Sunday, saying that although it seems “egregiously unconstitutional,” courts often defer to the president on immigration matters.