Refugee groups cautiously optimistic after travel ban ruling

Story highlights

  • There is concern and trepidation about how long the ruling will hold
  • Funding for resettlement groups is also in question

Washington (CNN)For the second weekend in a row, nonprofits tasked with welcoming refugees to the United States are reacting to a sudden, major shift in the policies that govern their work.

A week ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending resettlement for 120 days and initiating a review of the vetting procedures used to approve applicants to come to the United States.
Then Friday, a more welcome surprise for refugee groups: A federal judge in Washington reversed several key provisions of the executive order, paving the way some refugees to enter the country.
    Amid the celebration, however, there is also concern and trepidation about how long the ruling will hold, and how many refugees will actually be admitted.
    "I feel like our whole world has been turned upside-down," Danielle Drake, community relations manager at the Cleveland nonprofit US Together, told CNN Saturday.
    "The executive order came in so quickly, no one was prepared for it," she said. "We had zero notice."
    Two of the families Drake was working with had to cancel their flights. She had already lined up apartments for them and was relieved the landlords were willing to return the security deposits.
    Since Friday's court ruling, Drake said she has been feeling "cautiously optimistic" but she still has a sense that "at any minute, the rug's going to get pulled out from under my feet."
    Funding for resettlement groups is also in question as the administration and the courts each consider the future of the US refugee program.
    If the administration is given the go-ahead to move forward with its four-month suspension, Drake estimates US Together will have to lay off at least half its staff.
    "One of the other very difficult aspects of the executive order was the financial implications faced by the local resettlement offices," Sarah Krause, a senior director for the national resettlement agency Church World Service, told CNN.
    "Limited as that funding may be," she continued, "it is what helps to maintain the capacity of an affiliate office."
    The State Department has been coordinating with CWS and other agencies to provide guidance on what Friday's court ruling means for them in practical terms.
    As of Saturday afternoon, CWS had been advised that flights were expected to resume early next week and continue for at least the next two weeks.
    Local agencies are rebooting to accommodate the expected newcomers.
    "People will do whatever is necessary to meet that challenge," Krause said. "This is a challenge we welcome and look forward to meet."
    Once refugees are vetted and approved for travel to the United States, the agencies coordinate their arrival with the International Organizations for Migration, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the refugees' host country.
    It's a process that can take time.
    But for refugees still awaiting approval to go to the United States, the uncertainty created by the executive order and subsequent legal challenges has left them in limbo.
    That's due, in part, to a provision of the Trump administration's order that was not overturned in Friday's court ruling -- a provision capping total refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, which ends October 1.
    More than 30,000 refugees had already been admitted to the US before the new policy went into effect, according to State Department data, leaving just under 20,000 spots open.
    "That's a big problem and a huge disappointment," Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society told CNN Saturday. "But it's still going to make a big difference in the lives of nearly 20,000 people."