Executive order on refugees sparks debate, student action

Student organization Michigan Refugee Assistance Program opposes Trump's executive order regarding refugees.

Student organization Michigan Refugee Assistance Program opposes Trump's executive order regarding refugees. Buy this photo
Illustration courtesy of MRAP

 

Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 5:05pm

President Donald Trump recently announced his plan to enact a wide-ranging ban on refugees entering the United States, according to a draft of his executive order obtained by The New York Times.

The order, which Trump is expected to sign soon, would place a ban on all refugees for at least 120 days, with an indefinite ban on those from Syria. Additionally, the executive order instills a complete 30-day freeze on all immigration –– regardless of refugee status –– from the predominantly Muslim countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. After the 120 days are up, an extension of the order notwithstanding, the refugee program would shrink the number of refugees allowed into the United States from 110,000 refugees per year to 50,000.

In response to news of the expected ban, the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program, a University of Michigan student organization created this year, issued a Facebook post opposing the order. The post, which stated that the order "risks repeating mistakes of the past when the United States tragically turned away Jewish refugees in World War II," included a link to a document providing information on how to contact lawmakers and newspapers in order to oppose the ban.

MRAP's Facebook cover photo stands in opposition to Trump's executive order.

MRAP's Facebook cover photo stands in opposition to Trump's executive order. Buy this photo
Courtesy of MRAP

 

College Republicans president Enrique Zalamea, an LSA junior, hailed the speed of Trump's executive orders. 

"Its so rare to see such action happening so quickly, and I’m really glad to see real changes occurring," he said. " I know right now the vetting process is already pretty strict, but just to create those additional firewalls is always welcome when you’re talking about our national security." 

Rackham student Andrea Gillespie, an education and advocacy co-chair for MRAP, warned against the politicization of the refugee crisis.

"We don't see this as a partisan issue," she said. "What we see is a dangerous political climate and an issue of human dignity. And I think now more than ever in this current climate we have to remain active and vigilant, and make sure that we're having our voices heard and that refugees' voices are heard."

Although most of its work has revolved around assisting already-resettled refugees, Gillespie said in light of the expected refugee ban, MRAP would be taking a more advocacy-based role, trying to keep the resettlement process alive.

"We feel like now more than ever is when we need to be advocates in a social space for refugees, and that includes contacting every single representative that we can, calling the White House, talking to the State Department, who runs refugee resettlement programs," Gillespie said. “I think that we were walking a tight line before and I think now that line is essentially blurred with the comments coming out, the potential ban on Muslim refugees, especially considering the fact that Michigan itself has such a strong attachment to refugee resettlement and all of the benefits that come from it."

In November 2015, following the Paris terrorist attacks in which 129 were killed, Gov. Rick Snyder released a statement saying the state would not be taking in more Syrian refugees.

Despite Snyder's announcement, however, Michigan continues to lead in multiple categories of refugee resettlement. According to the State Department, Michigan took in 1,315 refugees between Oct. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016, the sixth most of any state, behind Texas, California, New York, Arizona and Ohio. Of those, 389 were from Syria— more than in any other state.

Some residents of Washtenaw County have taken a special interest in the refugee resettlement process, as well. Ann Arbor resident Brea Albulov, who started a baby sling business in February 2015, collaborated with Freedom House of Detroit and Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County to employ five refugee seamstresses.

According to an email sent by Deborah Drennan, the executive director of Freedom House — a non-governmental organization that provides temporary housing for refugees while searching for permanent housing — the organization was recently denied funding by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The current contract with HUD accounts for 60 percent of Freedom House funding and ends March 31.

Drennen wrote the organization’s current funds will sustain its operations through the fall, but it has stopped taking new asylum cases. Under President Trump’s immigration plan however, Freedom House’s future is at risk despite a high success rate of settling refugees.

"For the past five years, according to Michigan's Homeless Management Information System, on average, 93% of residents exit Freedom House into permanent housing without subsidies,” she wrote. “An exceptional 86% of residents granted asylum at the first interview. These outcomes align with HUD's goal to eliminate homelessness. We are disappointed that asylum seekers and refugees are not a priority in our community for HUD funding."