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Uncertain Future Remains For Northeast Ohio Refugee Resettlement Agencies

White House press secretary Sean Spicer yesterday said President Trump's travel ban order is fully lawful, and he was confident the order would be upheld by an appeals court.  The comments came after a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle heard arguments in Hawaii's challenge to the ban

After the first executive order in January affecting travel from mostly Muslim countries, Northeast Ohio refugee resettlement agencies feared lay-offs and uncertain finances.  Yesterday I spoke with Evan Chwalek with agency Us Together, about how things were going:

CHWALEK: “The way I like to think about it is, there are the things that the judiciary can affect, and the things they can’t affect, and we’ve been able to continue the resettlement process, but because the President has essentially cut the number of refugees admitted to the country in this fiscal year in half, we have fewer refugees to resettle, and unfortunately because of that we had many lay-offs.”

GANZER: “How many would you say?”

CHWALEK: “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10, I would say, across the Cleveland office, and then we have offices in Toledo and Columbus, as well.”

GANZER: “And you personally were affected by this. You were laid-off, right?”

CHWALEK: “That’s correct.  I was laid-off in February and because of the changes in staff, they actually brought me back on as a full-time employee just three weeks ago.”

GANZER:“Not knowing many of the things that will come through the courts, or what the Administration might do next, what is the mood would you say around Us Together?  Is it one of fear, or panic, or optimism?”

CHWALEK: “Fear isn’t the word I’d use.  Resiliency comes to mind. Despite the uncertainties of the future, we have to continue offering the day-to-day services to our clients: getting them from medical appointments, applying for Social Security, making sure they understand how to use the bus on the way to work.”

GANZER: “Can you talk more about how this uncertainty has affected where the rubber meets the road? For getting families in, you said there are fewer families coming in, are there also fewer resources and fewer things that you guys can do?”

CHWALEK: “Luckily the Greater Cleveland Refugee Services Collaborative, we have just an incredible network of resources for our clients, and fortunately nothing has been impacted in a major way on that front.”

GANZER: “How many families do you think will come to Cleveland this year, projected, would you say?”

CHWALEK: “I don’t really know the answer to that, but I would say somewhere around 175 individuals by the end of this fiscal year, which ends in September.”

GANZER: “In a pre-Trump Administration era, can you compare how many families we can look at?”

CHWALEK: “I look at the arrival sheets, and they are almost completely blank now.  We probably had 400 resettled in the last fiscal year, individuals that is.”

GANZER:Something that was brought up before when the first travel ban, executive order was issued, was people didn’t know if they could come back in the country if they were visiting family abroad, or we didn’t know if there could be family reunions.  Is that still the case, or do we have some clarity now?”

CHWALEK: “We recommend that our clients don’t leave the country.  I know that for people with special immigrant visas—so these would be people who worked for USAID or worked as translators in the military—they have visas in-hand when they, or Green Cards in-hand, when they arrive at the border, so it makes their problems at the border lesser, but we still don’t recommend that they leave.”

GANZER: “What do you think that people aren’t talking about?  There’s lot of attention on the policy and the courts, but what do you think people should be talking about in the work you do every day?”

CHWALEK: “The negative impact has already started.  This is the first time that an administration has lowered the number of refugees to be resettled in the middle of a given fiscal year since 9/11, and since 9/11 we have problems in Syria, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Yemen.”

GANZER: “Is there any optimism in your office?  I know you said there’s resiliency there, but is there hopefulness that things will go back to normal, or the system will improve after this has worked its way out of the courts?”

CHWALEK: “I think there’s a great deal of optimism within the organization, but I think once we get through the fiscal year and have a better understanding of what the numbers will look like going forward, the boat will steady, so to speak.”

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