President Donald Trump’s travel ban is now in effect, and Vermont, a state committed to taking in refugees and shielding illegals, will have to adapt. But so far, no one seems to know how.
The six countries with 90-day restricted travel as of this week include Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan. Despite the restrictions, citizens of these nations still may enter the country if they can demonstrate “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
The general consensus among policy experts is that it’s unclear what the ban means for Vermont.
“It may change it some,” said James Simpson, a researcher with the Center for Security Policy. “The State Department put out a notice saying that those refugees who were already ‘in the pipeline,’ that have been vetted and were scheduled to come here, would still come.”
Officials who work directly with refugee resettlement in Vermont echoed those thoughts.
“We have an existing relationship with incoming refugees certified and arranged through the Department of State, and we understand the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that their continued arrival will not be affected,” Lavinia Limón, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said in a statement.
“Travel plans are in process, beds have been made, and staff around the country plan to meet new Americans at the airports today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks and months,” she added. “Refugees fleeing persecution built this country (and) make it stronger, and our promise to them will continue unabated.”
Denise Lamoureux, the state refugee coordinator for Vermont, also commented on the ban.
“It’s too early to know because we haven’t actually received any directions or communications from the federal government,” she said. “We’ve kept the programs open, but of course it’s been slowed down due to all the different developments that we’ve been through in the last six months.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, around 13,000 refugees entered the U.S. during Trump’s first three months in office — roughly half the 25,000 from former President Barack Obama’s last three months.
Simpson said refugee contractors facing the slow down have had to cut resources, including staff and offices.
“A lot of the refugee contractors have expressed concern that they don’t have the money or they are not going to have the staff to do all the resettlement that they were originally planning on doing,” he said.
The uncertainty about the policy is playing out in Rutland, Vermont’s newest refugee hub. Last year the city was approved to receive 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees after former Mayor Christopher Louras carried out a highly secretive plan to make the city a permanent resettlement community.
The underhanded move resulted in the ouster of the 10-year incumbent mayor, and the election of new Mayor David Allaire, who campaigned to return the government to the people.
“We’re still waiting for more information as to how this is going to be applied and how it will impact us,” Rutland Alderman Ed Larson told True North in an interview. “We have not had, to my knowledge, any definitive information as to whether it’s going to slow down the process or whether it’s going to halt the process.”
He said the resettlement program has signs of life despite the ban.
“My understanding is that there were a couple of families that would be coming to Rutland, but we have not had any information relevant to when that arrival will take place or how that will transpire.”
Simpson gave his take on Rutland’s program.
“My guess is that it will probably slow down the Rutland resettlement, which has already been going pretty slow anyway. But beyond that, I pretty much can’t say,” he said.
Allaire did not return True North’s request for comment regarding the status of the city’s resettlement office.
Simpson has been critical of the vetting process, arguing that it’s difficult to know the backgrounds of refugees from war-torn, terrorist-plagued countries. Furthermore, he claims that security has not been a top priority of refugee resettlement programs.
“The objective is to process them,” he said. “They come sometimes with their country’s drivers licenses, passports, things like that, but the best or only really reliable way the U.S. government has of identifying them is by running their names through various databases.”
He added that those databases are often unreliable for those doing the vetting, and so officials rely on intake interviews — again, with the intent to just move them along.
Regarding the family relations component of the travel ban, Simpson questions how such relationships will be verified.
“None of the people coming to Rutland have had any U.S. ties,” he said. “A lot of the resettlements rely on having people already here so they can bring that many more to those locations or nearby. I suspect it will also ramp up the incidents of fraud, where there was already a significant component of fraud in that whole family reunification component.”