Refugee Families Will Have To Get A Handle On Revised Travel Order

Mar 7, 2017
Originally published on March 7, 2017 8:22 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. refugee program is set to be put on hold again. President Trump's new executive order will temporarily stop refugees from entering the U.S. beginning next Thursday. That'll have ripple effects on families here and abroad. Here's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Halima Mohamed says she spent night after night pacing up and down her staircase. She was worried that Trump's order would stop her two oldest daughters from leaving a refugee camp in Kenya. She was also worried because they're from Somalia, one of the six majority-Muslim countries subject to a temporary travel ban.

HALIMA MOHAMED: I am a mother, and you know how a mother feels. If you don't have your kid, that means you are missing a part of your life.

WANG: The last time she saw them was about seven years ago when she left them with her late ex-husband in the camp to start a new life in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Her daughters' flight is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. just nine days before the refugee program's 120-day suspension begins.

MOHAMED: I am happy for my luck, but I also feel bad for those people who get bad luck. I feel sorry for them.

WANG: Advocates say clearances for refugees still waiting for flights to the U.S. will expire over the next few months, so they'll have to go back to square one after the refugee program restarts.

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ELIZABETH ARJOK: It really breaks my heart that so many people are still fighting for their lives. They don't know where life will take them.

WANG: That was Elizabeth Arjok, a former refugee from South Sudan, who spoke at a press conference by The New York Immigration Coalition.

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JOHN KELLY: The fact remains that we are not immune to terrorist threats and that our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us.

WANG: That's Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who says the revised executive order will allow the government to review how it vets refugees. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions joined Kelly to announce Trump's new order, which cited two recent convictions involving former refugees and other cases to justify the temporary ban.

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JEFF SESSIONS: More than 300 people, according to the FBI, who came here as refugees are under an FBI investigation today for potential terrorism-related activities.

WANG: But the Trump administration has not provided any details about those alleged activities. That's drawing skepticism from refugee advocates like Hans Van de Weerd. He's the chair of Refugee Council USA, a coalition of refugee advocacy groups. Van de Weerd says Trump's order unfairly demonizes refugees, including those already in the U.S. who need help from local resettlement agencies to improve their English and other job skills.

HANS VAN DE WEERD: That requires a lot of collaboration because not all of the agencies, because of their financial situations, will be able to continue their work, which is a negative impact of the ban.

WANG: The ban also comes with a lower limit for the number of refugees who can enter the U.S. So far, more than 37,000 refugees have arrived since October or almost three-fourths of Trump's cap of 50,000. Halima Mohamed says she's trying not to jinx her two daughters' chances of being among those 50,000. She's heard about a friend who prepared to welcome his family members before Trump's first travel ban went into effect.

MOHAMED: He went to the house, he bought their bed and bedding, everything. And they were turned back.

WANG: Turned back at the airport. Mohamed says she won't buy her daughters new beds and school supplies until she can finally give them a hug. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.