Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court again weighed in on on President Trump's refugee and immigrant travel ban. While the high court had previously ruled that the administration could temporarily block anyone without a "bona fide" relationship to an American person or entity, this time it ordered the administration to expand its definition of bona fide to include grandparents and cousins of those already in the U.S.
After the previous court decision, the administration had also excluded refugees who had made contact with resettlement agencies from its interpretation of bona fide, affecting an estimated twenty-four thousand refugees who had formal assurances from resettlement agencies. A U.S. district court judge had rejected that restriction, but the Supreme Court kept it intact.
It's not immediately clear how the decision will affect the Triangle's refugee resettlement programs. But local agencies are already bracing for a tough road ahead.
"There is so much change even on a day-to-day basis that it has become very difficult for us to have a very accurate prediction of what sort of impact there will be on us and our clients and future clients in the immediate aftermath of any ruling," says Ellen Andrews, the North Carolina area director for Christian World Service, a resettlement agency based in Durham. "That being said, we have already seen refugee arrivals slow down considerably."
Andrews says CWS had already given refugees assurance of relocation, and they would have been able to travel before Wednesday's ruling. Now their future is unclear.
"At this point, we don't really know," she says.
To date, CWS has relocated about two hundred refugees in 2017, primarily from Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Due to the Trump administration's decision to halve the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2017, Andrews doesn't expect those already low numbers to increase much.
Still, she adds, the agency remains committed to its mission.
"This is the last sliver of hope for thousands and thousands of people every year who have no other opportunity to get their life back and rebuild and ensure that their children have the opportunity to create their own futures," Andrews says. "Refugees are by far the most carefully vetted individuals entering the United States, so we really just think that this travel ban framed as an effort to protect national security is completely misguided, and also mean-spirited to target the world's most vulnerable people in this way."