WASHINGTON – Refugee admissions, which were the main source of new residents moving to Buffalo in recent years, could slow dramatically under a Supreme Court ruling Monday temporarily upholding parts of President Trump’s executive order to curtail the refugee resettlement program and bar travel from several Muslim-majority countries.
Trump’s order calls for a 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlement program, but that provision has been on hold because of lawsuits. That meant 376 refugees were able to come to Buffalo between Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration and June 7 despite the president’s order.
Now, though, the Supreme Court has ruled Trump’s temporary stop to the refugee admissions program can go forward. And Trump has said that if the high court were to rule in his favor, he would implement his executive order within 72 hours.
That means fewer refugees are likely to come to the United States in the next four months, although the Supreme Court allowed for one major exception.
“An American individual or entity that has a bona fide relationship with a particular person seeking to enter the country as a refugee can legitimately claim concrete hardship if that person is excluded,” the justices wrote.
Those refugees, then, will continue to be able to resettle in the United States – but other refugees will be blocked from entry for 120 days.
It appears that the court decision will have a major impact on the refugee resettlement program at Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County.
The agency has 98 refugees overseas who are lined up to resettle in Buffalo, but only 18 of them, or 18 percent, already have ties to the United States, the agency said. Thanks to the ruling, the other 80 of them are unlikely to be able to come to America anytime soon, even though they had been told they would be coming to Buffalo.
“I can’t imagine being in that situation where one day you are able to come and the next day you are not, and the reason you can’t come is that you don’t have family here,” said Marlene A. Schillinger, president of Jewish Family Service. “It’s unconscionable.”
Another part of the court ruling could also limit refugee admissions. The high court upheld Trump’s decision to cut the overall number of refugees admitted to the United States in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 to 50,000, down from the 110,000 the Obama administration had wanted to admit.
State Department figures show that as of Monday, 48,856 refugees had already been admitted to the United States in the current fiscal year, meaning very few refugees would be allowed to enter the country in the coming months.
The high court ruled, though, that those hardship cases with connections to the United States would have to still be allowed to enter, even if the number of refugees admitted goes above 50,000.
Buffalo is likely to be among the cities most affected by the high court ruling.
The city has four refugee resettlement agencies, and together they have brought more than 15,000 refugees to the city since 2002. Thousands more have moved to Buffalo after resettling first in other American cities.
“We don’t have full clarification on what the Court means by ‘bona fide relationships’ and until that time it would be hard to determine exactly how this will affect refugee resettlement,” said Karen M. Andolina Scott, executive director of Journey’s End Refugee Services in Buffalo.
Nevertheless, Scott sounded deeply concerned.
“Some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees have no ties to the United States – including families with children fleeing war, violence and persecution,” she said. “To make a U.S. connection a prerequisite for refugee admissions in our country is to jeopardize lives and deny safety to millions.”