WNPR

Revised Travel Ban Frustrates Head Of New Haven Refugee Resettlement Group

Jun 30, 2017

The Trump administration has set new criteria for foreign visitors to the United States from six mainly Muslim nations.

The limited travel ban requires visitors have what the Supreme Court called a “bona fide” connection with a person or institution in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the State Department issued guidelines saying that connection extends to certain family members and people looking to work or lecture in the United States.

Chris George is executive director of IRIS in New Haven, a nonprofit that helps refugees resettle in Connecticut. Below is an edited transcript of WNPR’s conversation.

WNPR’s Patrick Skahill: How will this most recent guidance from the State Department impact your work?

Chris George: Well, this is, in effect, a refugee ban. We’re not at all happy with the interpretation that came out of the State Department.

The State Department’s mission, we thought, was to save as many lives of refugees as possible, bring as many refugees to this country through the resettlement program. Instead, they’ve come up with an interpretation that is so narrow, that most refugees are going to be blocked out over the next 120 days.

We were hoping that the language of the Supreme Court ruling -- which was: people would be allowed to come to the United States if they have a bona fide relationship with an entity here -- that “entities” would include refugee resettlement agencies. We think it’s a little odd that someone who is booked to speak at a conference at Yale University, for example, will be allowed to come, but a family fleeing persecution, and invited to start a new life in the United States, is not going to be allowed.

How many people are currently in your pipeline, at IRIS, to be resettled -- and how many could this negatively affect?

We have about 150 people who are what we call in refugee resettlement language “assured.” They are assured by our organization that we will resettle them once they get a travel date. So that’s about 150 people with whom we have a relationship that we were expecting to resettle over the coming months. Now it appears that only a tiny fraction of those 150 will be coming because of the narrow interpretation, which is only those with very close family relationships.

My understanding is your agency settles people mostly without family connections in the United States. Are there still paths to a visa for people that you can see under the revised rules via things like work or school connections here in the state?

No. Refugees, almost by definition, are not going to have any work connections. They’re not going to have any connections with academic institutions.

I mean, I guess I could, tongue in cheek, go out and try to book all of the assured refugees as lecturers at Yale, UConn, and Quinnipiac, but I don’t think that’s likely to pass. The refugee resettlement program is, at its core, a life-saving humanitarian program. We bring people here who have been persecuted, save their lives, and we give them a new start on a new life in this country. That’s what it’s about.

Just personally, Chris, as someone who is working directly with these folks to resettle them, how have these last few days been for you?

It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster. But refugees have gone through ups and downs. They have demonstrated incredible resilience and courage. They inspire us, those of us who work with them, to do the same. So we will bounce back. We will fight this interpretation in the hope of coming up with something that’s more favorable so we can bring as many refugees to the United States as possible.