Following questions from the community regarding President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting travel into the United States, the International Rescue Committee office in Turlock held an educational meeting Tuesday evening to inform the public on what the order means for their work and how they plan to move forward.
City leaders and residents joined IRC staff and volunteers at Monte Vista Chapel for the event, which informed attendees about the executive order specifically and how it will affect the committee’s goal of helping refugees resettle in Turlock.
Signed on Jan. 27, the executive order suspended travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries and limited the nation’s refugee program. Trial judges around the country have blocked aspects of the order, and on Feb. 9, a three-judge federal appeals panel unanimously refused to reinstate the travel ban.
While that decision means that refugees can once more come to Turlock, some aspects of the order remain, such as Trump’s decision to lower the ceiling of admitted refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 for the year. The number for refugees admitted has not been as low as 50,000 since 2011 following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, said Karen Ferguson, Executive Director of the IRC’s Northern California offices.
Ferguson explained to those in attendance that since the IRC had originally been working toward reaching their goal of 110,000 admitted refugees prior to the executive order being signed, 32,000 have already been resettled into the United States since Oct. 1, 2016. This leaves room for just 18,000 more for the remaining months of the fiscal year. Since funding is based on the number of people the IRC resettles, the organization will receive less money, making it difficult to maintain services for their clients.
“We are all committed, all of the agencies that do refugee resettlement, to bring every single one of those people in and keep them out of harm’s way,” said Ferguson. “But, it does mean that there are 60,000 other people we had all planned to bring into this country that will not be brought in.”
Currently, President Trump is working on a new travel order. What it will contain is still a mystery, but if a four-month halt on refugee resettlement is still suggested, the consequences could be devastating to those suffering in the Middle East said Ferguson.
“Someone asked me, ‘Well, that’s not good, but it’s four months. What’s four months?’” she said. “I want all of you to feel my passion for a second…a single day for a refugee in a refugee resettlement camp can be a day that your wife is raped, your child is beat up or somebody in your family dies, so yeah, four months matters a lot and there will be lives that are lost.”
Moving forward in anticipation of the approaching new order, IRC Northern California Deputy Director Christine Lemonda urged those in attendance that advocacy was what the organization now needs most. Postcards reading “I stand with refugees” were handed out, and attendees were encouraged to write why they support refugees and send the postcards to local legislators. Attendees were able to ask Ferguson questions regarding the refugee situation in Turlock, which included how the IRC helps them become employed, where they go to school and how they can volunteer to help.
Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth and Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar also attended the event, and voiced their support of refugees in Turlock. Soiseth gave two examples of how he has seen both refugees and other immigrants effortlessly assimilate into Turlock’s culture, including a day he described as a “great sight to see,” where he walked through a Turlock park and didn’t hear a single person speaking English.
“I didn’t see anyone have any fear, and everyone was very welcoming,” he said.
The other example was that of one of the city’s youngest refugees — small, Syrian children at a school event waving the American flag and singing patriotic songs as if she had lived here her whole life. While these two instances were examples of Turlock’s welcoming nature, Soiseth said that he still fears the exception to that kind acceptance.
“What I fear, though, is the outlier. The person that isn’t informed…that’s the message that the chief and I and the entire City government are trying to express to all those individuals that are uninformed, or that read things that aren’t true — that’s who we want to speak to,” said Soiseth. “As a whole, I think we are one of the most welcoming communities and I think we are going to stay that way as long as I’m mayor.”
For more information about refugees or to volunteer to help, visit www.rescue.org or contact the Turlock IRC office at 209-667-2378.