President Trump’s executive order to ban refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from coming into the United States, known as “The Muslim Ban,” is what we often talk about and see on news regarding any refugee status or immigration policy. However, is the Muslim Ban what really affects the arrival of refugees in American cities such as Colorado Springs?
Laura Liibbe is the community programs coordinator at Lutheran Family Services, Colorado’s local organization that is responsible for refugee settlement, among other affairs. Liibbe studied international development and teaches English as a second language, which was what inspired her to get involved with the organization. Her work primarily entails connecting refugees to the resources they need in Colorado Springs. She has been working with LFS for six years.
The U.S. does not only receive refugees from the countries listed above; it receives other refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Rwanda, and Burundi. Liibbe argues that the Muslim Ban is not the only policy that made refugees’ arrival harder. Trump did not only implement “The Muslim Ban” or “The Refugee Ban,” but he also he put a hold on the resettlement program that affected those other countries as well. The hold stopped the processes of reviewing resettlement cases for 120 days.
When the refugee ban was finally lifted, people believed that refugees could again enter the U.S.. However, Trump had already implemented secretive policies that were not at the forefront of the news, so refugees were still not granted access to the country.
The security processes that Trump altered made it impossible for some cases to be processed. The security screening process usually entails refugees providing medical documents, background checking, verification of their refugee status, and their employment history for 10 years. That process is already difficult for some refugees to fulfill, especially if they fled their country and do not have access to their official documents. This process was made more difficult by mandating a 15 or 20 year verification of employment and other documents.
Trump also took resources from refugee reviewing processes that were reallocated to U.S. asylum cases. Liibbe emphasized that this move was not necessarily bad, but she criticizes the shift of resources instead of investing in new and increased resources. The refugee reviewing process is now significantly slower due to the loss of financial support and expertise. Each year, the President chooses a number of refugees to accept. This year, Trump’s administration decided on 45,000, but due to the slowed nature of the process, only 18,000 are expected to be approved and able to enter this year.
The trends these policies created can be tracked in the Colorado Springs community as well. LFS progress is currently very slow because of the political climate. LFS usually has one month with an uptick of refugee arrivals and then a slow decrease afterwards. However, LFS has not received any refugees or immigrants for a long time. Last fiscal year, LFS should have received 150 refugees, but they only received 70. For the current fiscal year, LFS is supposed to receive 100 refugees but has only received 30 since October. LFS does not have any cases waiting for settlement.
Liibbe emphasized that the city of Colorado Springs has the resources, the capacity, and the capabilities to receive refugees. In the past, they have settled 150 refugees a year with ease. Now, Liibbe insists that we will see a major decrease in that number. This decrease will deeply affect the LFS partnerships because their government funding is dependent on how many refugees they settle.
Liibbe expressed that when she first started working at LFS, teamwork was crucial because they were a lot busier and understaffed. They used to work as a family on every case. Now, LFS has decreased its staff, laying off one person. That is a huge change because they were already a very small staff. If this trend continues, offices around the country will lose valuable expertise. This expertise may be needed if the resettlement program comes back to full capacity.
In spite of Colorado Springs’ reputation as a conservative, right-wing city, Liibbe highlighted that they receive a great deal of support from churches, organizations, and citizens who volunteer for LFS. Sometimes, their volunteers’ hours exceed those of the Denver office. Liibbe sees Colorado Springs as a very welcoming community, as LFS continually receives bipartisan support.