OSHKOSH – President Donald Trump’s immigration order will — at least for the next four months — keep some refugee families in Oshkosh separated from their loved ones.
World Relief Fox Valley is working with 18 such families in Oshkosh, said Tami McLaughlin, executive director of the Oshkosh-based agency. They include women with children who are waiting to be reunited with their husbands and fathers and those whose oldest children are elsewhere and waiting to come to the United States.
All of those cases are now on hold because of the president’s Jan. 27 executive order, McLaughlin said.
That order suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, indefinitely bars refugees from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — and bars citizens of those countries from traveling to the U.S. for three months.
Although World Relief staff still is trying to figure out how exactly the moratorium affects their work, it affects the organization’s finances, too, as it receives funding based on the number of refugees it helps resettle, McLaughlin said.
“It will mean a change in staffing,” she said. “But equally — if not more important — is what it means for our clients.”
While the organization did not have any clients en route to the U.S. when the order when into effect, some clients who were supposed to come to America had their flights canceled, she said.
In Oshkosh, World Relief primarily resettles people from Congo, Iraq and Myanmar but also a few from Afghanistan and Syria. The organization resettled 209 people in 2016, McLaughlin said.
Even after the moratorium ends, refugees won’t be able to immediately arrive in the United States, she said. They will have to continue the extensive vetting process wherever they’d left off when the executive order was enacted. For some, that will mean having to redo a health evaluation — the final clearance step — that is only good for 60 days. Others might not be as far along in the process.
The process can last anywhere from 18 months to as long as three years, McLaughlin said, noting refugees are among the most-vetted groups allowed to enter the United States. Unlike immigrants, refugees are trying to escape danger or persecution from things like unstable or militia-based governments. Many have endured horrific experiences and given up hope that they’ll ever return to their home country.
The United Nations Refugee Agency has a handy graphic explaining the vetting process and qualifications on its website.
World Relief staff members are reacting to the situation on many levels — as professionals, as Americans and as friends of refugees — with grief, sadness and disbelief, McLaughlin said. They feel the order was made out of fear, and while they support the president and respect his position, they do not agree with the decision.
It’s become an issue of politics, numbers and ethnicity, she said. But that’s not how the people who work with refugees see it.
“For us, it’s a human issue,” said Kelsey Hulet, community outreach coordinator for World Relief Fox Valley. “It’s about humanity, and … we’re humans, so it’s our responsibility to advocate.”
Hulet said she’s frustrated by what she called misinformation about refugees and saddened by the effects the order has on so many people. She said World Relief clients love America and want to do good here, but they may feel unwelcome or unsafe. Clients have been questioning what will happen to their families.
What’s encouraging, however, is the increase in interest by the public, McLaughlin said. More people have stepped up to ask how they can help the organization. A volunteer orientation is set from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the World Relief office, 115 Washington Ave.
There also are other ways to get involved, McLaughlin said.
“If you’re a praying person, pray,” she said. “You can be an advocate. You can donate through our website. You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with what we’re doing.”
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