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Travel Ban Confusion Leaves Refugee Families Fearful

Children sitting at the base of a tree.
World Relief Durham
World Relief Durham
Children during a local celebration of World Refugee Day.

In January President Donald Trump issued an executive order that capped the number of refugees who could enter the United States at 50,000. That number more than halved the quota the previous administration had advised resettlement agencies to prepare for. 

When the cap was reached last week, it raised legal and policy questions about who would be allowed in and who would not. This uncertainty left many refugees fearful about their status and that of loved ones still overseas. And it continues to create uncertainty for organizations like World Relief, one of the country’s nine resettlement agencies. 

Host Frank Stasio talks with Adam Clark, Director of World Relief Durham, about the effects of the cap on refugees living in the Triangle and his own organization.

On confusion over which refugees are exempted from the cap:

The cap of refugees that were allowed in the U.S. again this year dropped from 110,000 to 50,000. We’re actually now over the 50,000 cap just because of some of these exceptions. Folks can still come through if they have close family that they’re joining, or if they have a bona fide relationship to a U.S. entity. The confusion that’s reigning is really about who qualifies under these exceptions. The State Department is definitely still deliberating on who will qualify. But for now we’re able to re-book some of the folks that had previously been banned, and we hope to see some of them this summer.  

On two sisters, separated:

There’s a family here – a sister here, who’s been separated from her sister overseas. They’re a Rohingya family … A really highly-persecuted ethnic and religious minority Muslim group in Myanmar. They’ve been killed by the hundreds – a lot of human rights violations. It’s a pretty ugly situation. The sister here is here with her child and husband. And the sister overseas has a husband and two children under five years old. They are still in harm’s way – still in a camp – not exactly a safe place to be. And the family overseas was supposed to come here in May. So we were supposed to be able to reunite them.

Because of the 50,000 cap, because of the executive order and the weekly limits on how many refugees are allowed in, those flights in May were canceled. So, of course, the sister here that we’re serving came to us in tears and said, “When am I going to see my sister, my niece and nephew? Are they coming at all?” And really we can’t answer that question definitively … Right now with the rate at which things are changing, I really don’t feel safe telling her she’ll see them again.


On refugee families in the Triangle feeling insecure:

One of the unfortunate consequences of some of the executive orders as well has been just to create an atmosphere of fear and confusion for the refugees already here. Unfortunately some people even in the Triangle here have taken advantage of that. A few months ago we got some clients coming to us, terrified. They had received a call from someone who said they were with the U.S. government who asked them to pay a certain amount of money or they would be deported. It was a scam, but our clients didn’t know that …  They’ve been through enough to get here They’ve waited for years. They’ve been persecuted where they’re fleeing from. And to be taken advantage of in that way is terrible.  

On the impact of political and legal changes on World Relief:

World Relief, like the other eight agencies that contract with the State Department, [has] gone through extreme turmoil since January. I don’t remember there ever being a previous year where the number of refugees we serve changed in the middle of the year. We already undergo more change than most organizations are used to. We resize ourselves as an entire network every year based on the presidential determination. But at the beginning of this fiscal year, we were told to become a network that could serve 110,000 people. And when that number dropped to 50,000, suddenly all the agencies across the U.S., including World Relief, had to make some pretty tough decisions. There were hundreds of layoffs. And World Relief itself was forced to close five offices.


Jennifer Brookland is the American Homefront Project Veterans Reporting Fellow. She covers stories about the military and veterans as well as issues affecting the people and places of North Carolina.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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