In September, President Donald Trump signed an executive order regarding where refugees can be resettled in the United States. For years, the federal government has worked productively with nonprofits and local authorities to resettle refugees. But Trump’s executive order potentially limits those efforts. It now requires consent from both states and local governments for refugees to be resettled. “You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods,” Trump said in October. In response, Church World Service, an international humanitarian organization that resettles refugees in Lancaster County and elsewhere, is urging municipal officials across southcentral Pennsylvania “to pass a resolution that would provide consent for refugee resettlement,” LNP’s Junior Gonzalez reported Nov. 21.
We continue to be disappointed by how much President Trump has done to block and discourage the settlement of refugees in America.
This hasn’t been a scaling back by his administration.
It’s practically a slammed door.
World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, says the U.S. resettled zero refugees in October.
“For at least as far back as World Relief has records, nearly 30 years, there’s never been a month when the U.S. did not receive a refugee — until October 2019,” World Relief stated in a news release.
And the timing couldn’t be worse.
“It’s a shame that at a time when we’re facing the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and we’re seeing the ongoing new displacement of Syrians, Rohingya and others, that the U.S. has accepted zero refugees,” added Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief. “We should be doing more, not less, and keeping the door open to protect the persecuted who have no safe place to go.”
We strongly agree. We must do more as a nation to open our arms to families and individuals who are looking to us for sanctuary and safety their countries can no longer provide.
This is not a new stance for the LNP Editorial Board or for the people of Lancaster County. In this space, we’ve noted our area’s “rich history, often rooted in religious belief, of welcoming the stranger.” We’ve praised and asked for reflection on President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 pledge for America to “continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.”
LNP and our community leaders have repeatedly made the case that refugees and other immigrants are a crucial part of Lancaster County’s economic success and well-being. A 2018 op-ed co-authored by Chamber President Tom Baldrige and Lancaster County Community Foundation President Sam Bressi pointed out: “(At) a time when our unemployment rate is at historic lows and the need for employees is at historic highs, the immigrant and refugee population is an absolutely essential piece of our ability to continue to grow the local economy.”
Also to the economic point, a national podcast recently highlighted one refugee who has bolstered Lancaster. A segment on NPR’s “The Indicator from Planet Money” told the story of Mustafa Nuur, a Somali refugee. “Nuur, who fled Somalia with his family after his father was killed by terrorists, spent 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Lancaster in 2014,” Chad Umble wrote Nov. 25 for LNP. “After getting a job building garages and sheds, Nuur learned web development at a marketing firm before winning the 2017 Great Social Enterprise Pitch with Bridge, a business through which refugees cook meals for local diners.”
Podcast co-host Stacey Vanek Smith praised the role Lancaster — dubbed “America’s refugee capital” by the BBC in 2013 — played in facilitating Nuur’s success. “Refugees like him and other immigrants are a meaningful part of a complicated success story — the story of how Lancaster City and the surrounding Lancaster County have prospered economically,” Smith said.
Imagine Nuur never having that opportunity here, because the door to America was closed.
That would be terrible not just for him, but for us.
Playing by new rules
That brings us back to President Trump’s “Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement.”
It does anything but “enhance” the process, in our view. Rather, it adds unnecessary impediments to the resettling of refugees in America. (And this is on top of Trump declaring that the U.S. will accept no more than 18,000 refugees in 2020, a historic low and a drop from this year’s ceiling of 30,000 refugees.)
The executive order requires both states and municipalities to opt in before receiving refugees. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, to his credit, was among the first governors to consent to refugee resettlement. But it is also incumbent upon each municipality — our state has more than 2,500 of them — to pass a resolution allowing for refugees to settle there.
Lancaster city was the first municipality to pass the necessary resolution, LNP’s Gonzalez reported. The Lititz Borough Council followed suit with unanimous passage of a resolution on Nov. 26.
That leaves 58 other Lancaster County municipalities that must pass a resolution before being able to accept refugees. It’s a maddening amount of bureaucracy necessitated by Trump’s executive order.
But these are the new rules. And so Church World Service has been urging our municipalities to get ahead of them.
“The nonprofit has reached out to at least five Lancaster County municipalities as well as some in York and Cumberland counties,” Gonzalez reported. To start, it’s focusing on some of the most populous places, such as Ephrata and Elizabethtown.
We hope all our municipalities eventually pass a resolution. And we applaud Church World Service’s work. It’s clear many here also support these efforts; Church World Service raised more than $94,000 in the recent Extraordinary Give.
‘Cruel and shortsighted’
Church World Service’s advocacy for refugees also extends to a lawsuit it has filed along with two other faith-based groups, challenging President Trump’s executive order. Along with HIAS (originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, it argues the order “violates federal law and inhibits their ability to practice their faith,” Religion News Service’s Jack Jenkins reported Nov. 22.
HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield believes the order has “chilling historic parallels” because it allows states and localities to “have a policy of blanket discrimination against people based on their legal immigration status as refugees.”
“It’s cruel and shortsighted,” added Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “We pray the courts will provide the relief that vulnerable children and families need right now.”
Until the courts decide, though, we must do what we can locally.
Days before Lititz passed its resolution, Shane Weaver, the borough council president, told Gonzalez that he personally would have no problem with continuing to receive refugees there.
“From my perspective, Lancaster County has a pretty rich history of being an accepting place,” Weaver said. “These individuals are appropriately screened by the federal government, and I think in Lancaster County we probably lack some diversity.”
We agree with his thinking. Refugees have already been through a rigorous vetting process. They need good communities to welcome them. We have long provided those havens here.
“We really hope and expect that all of the towns and boroughs will allow the status quo to continue,” said Sheila Mastropietro, office director at Church World Service.
It’s just a shame we must do all this extra work simply to maintain that status quo.