Refugee resettlement agency Lutheran Services Carolinas expects to layoff and reassign staff in the wake of President Donald Trump's controversial executive order dramatically reducing the number of refugees who can enter the United States.
Federal courts have halted Trump's order suspending the U.S. refugee admissions program. But the courts did not touch a provision of the order that slashed the cap on refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 this fiscal year. As of January 31, just under 40,000 refugees have been admitted to the U.S., including 28 in Charleston.
Agencies such as Lutheran Services Carolinas, which resettles refugees in Charleston, Columbia and Raleigh, rely on federal money tied to each refugee they help resettle. Lutheran Services Carolinas launched a GoFundMe campaign this month with the goal of raising $30,000 to blunt the impact of the loss of funding.
"That's the money we actually live on to do our work," said Ted Goins, president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas. "If we don't have any refugees, that money stops."
Lutheran Services Carolinas is an affiliate of Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine national organizations working on behalf of the federal government to help resettle refugees. Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, estimates between 70 and 80 positions so far have been cut at partner agencies across the country.
"We and all of the resettlement networks are looking at reductions of staff," Hartke said. "There’s not funding to pay for staff if refugees aren't arriving. There's some work that needs to be continued, but if the arrivals are dropping by more than 50 percent, it’s not good stewardship of resources to try to maintain staff infrastructure."
Citing Trump's executive order, World Relief, another Baltimore-based refugee resettlement nonprofit with a branch in Spartanburg, announced this month it will lay off more than 140 employees nationwide and close five offices in Maryland, Idaho, Ohio, Florida and Tennessee. Kerry Dodson, office director of World Relief Spartanburg, said her office was forced to layoff one staff member and leave a vacant position unfilled.
"We will continue to receive refugees when we are able to and we will continue to serve refugees who are already here in this community," Dodson said.
Trump's original order suspended the entry of refugees into the U.S. for 120 days, banned Syrian refugees indefinitely, and barred visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days. Within days of its adoption, the order sowed chaos and confusion at airports across the country as hundreds of travelers were detained, including those with valid visas and green cards.
Earlier this month, a federal judge issued a nationwide restraining order on the refugee and immigration ban, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration's bid to reinstate it. Trump is expected to sign a revised version of the order this week.