It’s a time of change at the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO). With President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven predominately Muslim countries taking full effect this week, the RRO’s staff and clients are left to sort through rumors and implications as they attempt to do their work and go about their day-to-day lives. With very few exceptions, the RRO’s impending arrivals cases have been cancelled. Executive Director Greg Hope says that “A few, a very few, will be admitted,” in the upcoming months.
The Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office has been working with refugees from around the globe since 1978. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there was a brief hold placed on refugees entering the country, but the Bush administration provided base-line funding that helped stabilize the resettlement network and prepare for the arrival process to restart. While President Obama did place additional restrictions on refugees coming from Iraq in 2011, the RRO still received and resettled refugees from Iraq throughout that entire year.
Even though the ban on refugees has placed a pall over resettlement efforts, the RRO continues to go about its work. Classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) continue to grow, thanks in large part to referrals from other students. The RRO’s ESL class that meets in a Kent apartment is doing particularly well. Classes have just begun for refugees interested in opening child care businesses they can run from their home.
But the ban is at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts. Stress levels are high, especially as case workers try to help refugees take care of rent and living expenses with jobs that don’t pay nearly enough. The uncertainty has brought rumors that keep the RRO’s clients on edge. There are worries that applying for permanent resident status will bring a refugee to the attention of immigration and cause them to be deported. Refugee business owners who were thinking of expansion plans have put those plans on hold, fearing that their refugee and immigrant customers will spend less. One SeaTac business owner has begun saving money to escape the county after her daughter was the victim of a hate crime and hit in the face with a bottle and her son was asked by police to inform on the community after receiving a scholarly award.
If this wasn’t enough, additional executive orders are expected that will add to the concerns of immigrant communities. In 2011, a Harvard Business School review of economic literature found that immigrants had a positive net fiscal effect on the economy and that most Americans would be better off if more foreign workers were let into the country. According to the Washington Post, a draft order asserts that immigrants use more means-tested benefits per capita than citizens. The order will seek to deport immigrants on public assistance. It may or may not effect refugees, it but will certainly set off a new round of worries and fear with the RRO’s clients.
As difficult as the uncertainty has been, volunteer ranks have swelled to 25 individuals who help in many of the RRO’s programs – from collecting household good and loading apartments with furniture to assisting in job search and ESL classes. Several churches in the area have shown interest in working with refugees and will likely sponsor families in the near future. And the growing support for refugees and immigrants within our community has boosted the morale of the everyone – clients and staff alike.
To find out more about the Refugee Resettlement Office and to learn more about their efforts in meeting the need of refugees in Western Washington, please visit their website. If you’d like to volunteer, make a donation, or simply have a conversation about refugee resettlement in the region, please call the Refugee Resettlement Office’s Director, Greg Hope, at 206.323.3152, ext. 101. Greg is also available to visit churches to describe how refugee resettlement is occurring within our communities.