Money raised from Sunday’s 5-kilometer Run for Refugees will assist the local nonprofit Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services as it prepares for the potential financial ramifications of President Donald Trump’s suspension of the United States’ refugee program.
An executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 27 put a 120-day suspension on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, in addition to halting arrivals by nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Though the order was temporarily halted by Judge James Robart of the federal district court for the Western District of Washington last Friday, the status of the refugee program itself remains unclear. Ann O’Brien, acting director of communication at IRIS, said refugee resettlement is continuing this week at IRIS, but that preparations are being made in case the order is in fact allowed to stand. This Sunday’s race raised over $150,000 to help IRIS in its efforts, O’Brien said.
O’Brien said no refugee resettlement in New Haven was halted as a result of the ban, as the organization had already finished resettlement for the week in which the ban took effect. IRIS was then able to resume refugee placement at the start of this week because of the order’s suspension, she said because of the order’s suspension, she said.
However, O’Brien raised concerns about the possibility that the four-month ban on refugees will be allowed to stand even if the embargo on nationals from the seven countries is ended, as the four-month shutdown is not technically discrimination, she said.
“It is possible the president has the authority to decrease the size of the program in its entirety,” she said. “If that happens, it is possible that some of the smaller agencies around the country could be even more impacted than IRIS, which will lose at least 50 percent of its funding during a four-month program shutdown.”
She said IRIS could stand to lose $250,000 if the program is cut.
O’Brien explained that the cut in federal funding for the next four months could cause resettlement agencies that rely on government contracts to lay off employees. In such a case, those agencies might be unable to recover when resettlement begins again, she added, and could also see a possible decrease in service provision to refugees already in the country. IRIS could then be faced with absorbing refugees from these struggling agencies.
O’Brien said the order was issued without a “deep, operational understanding” of what running a resettlement agency entails. The 530 refugees that IRIS resettles annually require housing, jobs and English services so they can meet the agency’s goal of becoming self-reliant within six months, she said.
In addition to the race funds, O’Brien said more money than usual has been raised on IRIS’s website since the executive order, but did not report an exact total. If the program continues as normal, O’Brien said the donations will be used to meet the needs of a steady flow of refugees into the Elm City.
Mahmood Mahmood, a senior at Wilbur Cross High School who arrived in New Haven three years ago as a refugee from Iraq, said he appreciates those who speak up for refugees, including those who came out to run the 5K. He said IRIS helped his father find work, assisted his mother in enrolling in English as a second language classes and placed their family in a furnished house, among other services.
“They make a big difference,” he said. “They start your life from zero to 100.”
Valentina Guerrero ’19, who ran the 5K with others from Pierson College, agreed with Mahmood that the 5K was an important public showing of support for refugee resettlement.
“This display challenged Trump’s isolationist xenophobic rhetoric,” she said. “To me, the 5K was a showing of what I really see as what makes America great — being there for our neighbors.”
Fatima Chughtai ’19, who has coordinated with IRIS through Students of Salaam and the Yale College Council, said it is important that the public, including Yale students, continue to support IRIS as they provide resources and connection to refugees in New Haven.