San Diego Resettlement Groups Continue Operations As Court Weighs Trump’s Refugee Order

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
By Tarryn Mento
Credit: Associated Press
Above: Parents pick up their children at Naranca Elementary in El Cajon, Oct. 5, 2016. The school is one of many in the San Diego suburb that has received an influx of Syrian refugees.

Dozens of refugees from Middle Eastern and North African countries are due to arrive in San Diego this week as a federal appeals court considers the president's order to halt the resettlement program and temporarily bar immigrants from certain Muslim-majority nations.

At least 59 refugees from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria are scheduled to arrive in San Diego County in the coming days, according to the region's four resettlement agencies. Meanwhile, a ruling is imminent on President Donald Trump's executive order that would suspend the refugee program for 120 days, cap annual arrivals at 50,000 and ban Syrian refugees indefinitely. The order would also temporarily bar immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

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The largest resettlement agency in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee, is expecting 46 refugees this week, said Executive Director David Murphy. The IRC has resettled 475 refugees so far this federal fiscal year, which began in October, and expects to resettle an additional 750 refugees by September.

But Murphy said the court’s decision could quickly change that.

“We are fully cognizant that something could be held up right now,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The agency is currently evaluating contingency plans for potential outcomes, Murphy added.

Etleva Bejko, director of refugee and immigration services for Jewish Family Service of San Diego, said her organization is anticipating one case this week: an Iraqi family of two who were denied entry when Trump's executive order was first signed.

"We're hoping they will make it this time," Bejko told KPBS on Wednesday.

Next week, she said another case is due to arrive on a Special Immigrant Visa, a program for interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan who have worked for the U.S. military.

According to Bejko, the U.S. Department of State approved the agency to resettle 450 refugees this federal fiscal year.

"Obviously that's just an approval number so depending on what's going on, that might change a little but at this point, we don't know what the numbers are going to be for the remainder of the federal fiscal year," she said.

The agency has already resettled 183 refugees this year, Bejko added.

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Robert Moser of Catholic Charities in San Diego said his organization this week is expecting only one case, a mother and child originally from Iran, but more will likely be arranged for resettlement in the near future. Moser said the organization was preparing for 17 arrivals this month before Trump suspended the program, a move that was subsequently challenged in court.

"All of our cases had been cancelled when the executive order went out so now they're being re-established," he said.

According to a notice his organization received from the U.S. Department of State, Moser said the federal agency isn't arranging travel plans for refugees beyond Feb. 17.

Another resettlement organization, Alliance for African Assistance, told KPBS an Iraqi family of three arrived Tuesday night and it expects nine more arrivals this week from Iraq and Afghanistan. Alliance Resettlement Director Jimmy Dervishi said the agency expects 14 refugees next week.

Amid the uncertainty over the president's order, IRC executive director Murphy said the agency’s offices in City Heights and El Cajon have been "inundated" with questions about the application process and the potential impact of the order.

He said the agency is encouraging resettled refugees to apply for a green card if they’ve been in the U.S. for at least a year, which is the soonest they become eligible. If they’ve been in the country for at least five years, they may apply for citizenship, Murphy added.