Despite resettlement plans to bring 100 Syrian refugees to Rutland this year, only 14 have arrived.
Nonetheless, Vermont’s Refugee Resettlement Program has applied to the US State Department to resettle 100 more Syrian and Iraqis refugees in Rutland in fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1.
But until President Trump decides how many refugees from all parts of the world will be allowed into the United States next year, nothing is certain.
Rutland’s refugee resettlement office is closed this week. It’s the end of the fiscal year and no new families are expected, so things are quiet.
Of the three refugee families who have arrived, none wanted to be interviewed for this story.
Local resident Cheryl Hooker says that doesn’t surprise her. “When they first arrived, they were inundated with interviews and reporters and I think now they feel that they just want to settle in and be normal.”
Hooker is a member of Rutland Welcomes, a grassroots organization that formed to help the refugees.
She says the Katib family, the second to arrive in Rutland last January, stayed in her home for about ten days until they could move to an apartment of their own.
“I think it’s important for your listeners to know that while the families are settling in at different levels, all the dads have jobs. One family already has a car," she says smiling. “The dad has a license, the mom has her permit.”
“Two of the dads are working together and that’s great,” she explains, “because one speaks a fair amount of English, while the other man, who arrived more recently, speaks less English.”
“But they’re really working hard,” she says, adding that Ahmed Katib, who initially stayed with her, is working ten-hour days, “often six or seven days a week."
“And the kids are amazing!” she laughs.
“Some of us babysit while the moms are at the library going to English classes. And one of my friends is transporting one of the kids back and forth to school every morning. So people are amazingly involved.”
The only downside, adds Hooker, is that so few refugees have been able to come to Rutland. "That's the heartbreaking part," she says, "because not a day goes by when someone doesn't ask if they can donate something or do something to help."
Saba Berhane, Director of Programs for The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which oversees resettlement in Vermont, says they hope to continue their work in Rutland and resettle more families. But “all of that will depend on the presidential determination," she says. "At this point we’re just crossing our fingers and waiting to see what that number might be.”
The president has the authority to determine how many refugees will be resettled in the United States each year. Because of the Syrian crisis, President Obama ramped up the number for fiscal year 2017 to 110,000.
But when President Trump took office, he reduced that to 50,000, which put the brakes on many refugee families already in the pipeline.
Resettlement was further slowed because of the legal back and forth over President Trump's executive orders banning and later suspending resettlement for some refugees.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the president's latest order October 10.
Kathleen Newland, co-founder and a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, says big questions remain about how the court will rule and what sort of refugee cap the president will set.
“There are indications from the budget that President Trump has put forward that no more than 50,000 refugees could be supported by the numbers in that budget. However, there have been rumors that some in the White house are advocating that the number for 2018 be set much lower,” says Newland. “Even as low as 15,000.”
“And that would be a very drastic reduction of historic levels of refugee entry,” she explains.
The Trump Administration has argued that slowing down refugee resettlement, especially from places like Syria, to allow more thorough vetting, is necessary for national security.
But Ambassador Ryan Crocker disputes that. Crocker is a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.
Speaking to reporters during a conference call this week, he said taking in fewer refugees would not only have humanitarian implications but serious political ones as well.
For instance he says reducing resettlement would harm relations with Middle Eastern allies like Jordan and escalate US resentment in Europe.
“If we continue to refuse to lead here, both through a number so small that we will have no credibility or just from a desire not to get involved with this, it will deepen the splits within Europe which is, of course, exactly what the Russians and others want,” said Crocker.
The longtime diplomat is urging the Trump Administration to resettle a minimum of 75,000 refugees.
Meanwhile, Kathleen Newland says all the uncertainty is wreaking havoc on resettlement agencies across the country. She says most do all their planning and budget work based on the number of refugees they work with.
“I was talking today to a young woman who had lost her job at a resettlement agency in upstate New York,” said Newland.
USCRI officials wouldn't say how many employees they've had to lay off nationwide, but in Rutland a staff of several is now down to one.