Refugee advocates pressure politicians

Will the United States turn its back on the world’s storm-tossed and nationless?

Advocates for refugees are asking people to call their senators and congressional representatives to make clear that there are Americans — voting Americans — who want their country to live up to its tradition of welcoming people driven from their homelands by war, political instability, and disaster.

The Refugee Resettlement Committee-Ridgefield, which settled a Syrian family in Ridgefield last year, is participating. The effort comes in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order, revised and reissued on March 6, that reduces the number refugees the United States will accept in 2017 by 60,000, as well as banning travel to the United States by people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

In Connecticut, the initiative to support refugees is being led by IRIS, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a New Haven-based group affiliated with the Episcopal Church. IRIS has worked for years to resettle refugees in the state, and is the agency that connected Ridgefield’s resettlement committee with the Syrian family it brought to town.

“IRIS initiated a ‘60,000 calls to save 60,000 refugees’ campaign,” said Ann O’Brien, a co-chair of Ridgefield’s resettlement committee, who works for IRIS.

“The U.S. agreed to welcome 110,000 refugees in 2017, but the president’s executive order cuts the number to only 50,000, the lowest in history,” states the IRIS website.

“Recently the courts challenged this executive order, standing up for refugees. We need your help to keep pressure on Congress to stand up for their part of this fight as well, to keep the refugee resettlement program funded.

“Our campaign aims to make 60,000 phone calls on behalf of 60,000 refugees.”

O’Brien said the theory of the campaign is that court challenges won’t be enough to reverse the policy and provide welcome in this country to the 60,000 refugees — the difference between the 110,000 initially allowed and the 50,000 the Trump administration wants to reduce it to — people who had been vetted, approved and remain waiting to come to the United States.

“Although the courts can challenge,” she said, “… if the funds are not allocated to support the program by Congress, the presidential administration can do an end run and de-fund the program.

“Our program is ‘60,000 calls to save 60,000 refugees’ to try to get Congress to do their part to fund the program.”

‘Historic low’

The much-publicized “travel ban” on people coming to the United States from certain countries has gotten most of the media attention, but it represents only one-third of the executive order, O’Brien said.

“In the media, everybody was talking about it as a travel ban. Well, the travel-ban portion of that executive order that affected six or seven countries was only one-third of the executive order,” she said. “The other two-thirds focuses on postponing bringing any refugees into the country for four months, as well as reducing the total number for this year down to a historic low of 50,000. The number before that was 110,000.”

The initiative that IRIS and the Ridgefield resettlement committee are working on asks local people to call their senators and congressmen to support having the United States live up to its original refugee commitment.

“Call and remind their own representatives that this is a voting issue for them, and that they want to see these refugees brought in, as we’d promised our partners.

“If you live in a state like Connecticut, where representatives are already friendly to the issue, let them know, and remind them that it’s the funding, as well,” O’Brien said.

The IRIS website lists “priority” representatives in Congress — committee chairmen and the like — and is asking supporters to pass on the idea of calling people they know in those representatives’ districts.

“Reach out to friends and relatives in other priority states — that have representatives in key positions — and have them make phone calls.”

For the kids

The Ridgefield Resettlement Committee has a local network of about 100 supporters, she said, and IRIS is also appealing to support groups in 52 other communities it has worked with to resettle refugees.

“We’ve also reached out to Women’s March huddle groups,” O’Brien said.

The leaders of local groups that took part in the women’s march are now back in their communities, talking to others who share their concerns and seeing what they can do.

Of the 60,000 refugees who would be denied entrance into the United States by the revised executive order, half are children, O’Brien said.

So IRIS is encouraging people to focus on children refugees who have been waiting and will now be kept out of the country.

“We’ve also provided people the name and ages of specific refugee children, that they can be calling on behalf of,” O’Brien said.

“We thought people would like to call on behalf of children.”