The president’s move to restrict the flow of refugees to the United States was welcomed by his Minnesota supporters but widely condemned by others who urged caution in the treatment of people fleeing war.
The order suspends all refugee resettlement for four months to allow for a review of the screening process and bans Syrian refugees and any refugees after the first 50,000 per year until President Trump decides otherwise. In remarks from the Pentagon on Friday, Trump said the moves were necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the nation.
The United States was projected to accept 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017.
A draft of the order was circulating online as early as Wednesday, and it won support from some in Minnesota, and condemnation from others.
Putting a stop to all refugees amounts to “a crisis,” said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
“We anticipate that there are people who sold their possessions who are either at airports or are making their way to airports to finally get here after years of being in camps or years of processing who suddenly are going to be waiting months if not years with these further reductions for refugee numbers,” Keller said.
Other Minnesotans welcomed the measure as a step toward fulfilling key Trump campaign promises that he said would help fight extremists.
Jeff Romine, a plumber from Bloomington, said he has long been concerned about refugee settlement costs to the state and local communities. He said he also worries about the challenges of vetting refugees from countries where dysfunctional governments or social upheaval hamper reliable record keeping.
Romine said he would not support the president if he sets out to deport immigrants without legal status and without criminal records. But he supports a smaller refugee resettlement program with tougher vetting.
“I feel a lot of the people whom we let in from those Muslim countries could be a problem,” he said.
As news of Trump’s order spread in mosques and malls Friday, many immigrants expressed fear and confusion.
“I hear this today, I am very sad,” said Hangatu Ahmed, who became a U.S. citizen just last summer and works as a janitor for a local business.
Ahmed, who heard the news at a Minneapolis mosque, has not seen her 22-year-old son, who lives in Ethiopia, for 16 years. She was hoping to start the process of getting his visa, but Trump’s order could make it difficult for him to join her.
“He was 6 when I left him,” she said, fighting back tears. “I had plan to bring him, but right now I don’t know how I am going to bring him. I don’t even have hope.”
Ahmed says that she won’t share the news of Trump’s order with her son. “What am I going to say to him?” she asked.
When the draft of the order leaked Wednesday it went viral through immigrant communities in the Twin Cities, sparking panic for those, like Ahmed, who have been carefully assembling paperwork so that family members in refugee camps abroad could make their way to the U.S.
At a community center attached to the Wellstone International High School in south Minneapolis, senior Zeinab Mohamed hoped that what she was hearing wasn’t true. For the past three years, her mother, father and siblings have been going through the screening process while living in Uganda. The family has been separated for 10 years. Now Mohamed worries their work will be for nothing.
“My family relies on me,” said Mohamed, 21, who added that she’s considering leaving school to work full time in order to send more money to her family. “It’s going to affect my studies.”
Mohamed was in a postsecondary class at Minneapolis Community and Technical College on Wednesday when she glanced at Facebook and saw the news. Frightened, she and a classmate raced to Wellstone to learn more.
As she searched for answers, members of an organization called the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota tried to answer questions.
Mohamud Noor, the head of the Confederation, said he was overwhelmed by the number of people seeking advice. He received a call from a mother whose son has a visa to come to the United States but stayed in Africa with her husband as he completed his paperwork. Now she fears that both of them will never arrive in this country.
Sitting slumped in a chair nearby, Rudwan Ibrahim held his hands in front of him, listening to others. A senior at Wellstone, he is the only member of his family in the United States; his parents and seven siblings are in Ethiopia, hoping to begin the paperwork to join him.
“I became demoralized when I heard this,” he said. “I am afraid that if I go back and visit my family, I will not be allowed to come back.”
As the draft order circulated on social media Wednesday, it brought denunciations from the state Democratic Party and others. The chairman of the DFL Party called the president’s moves on immigration “fearmongering.”
The head of the Catholic Church in the Twin Cities, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, called on the White House to work with Congress to implement immigration reform.
“The Church has repeatedly underlined the importance of treating our undocumented brothers and sisters with the dignity that is theirs as children of God,” he said in a statement. “Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has repeatedly called for all people of the world to welcome the migrant and refugee, who are often fleeing violence and impossible living conditions.”
Kathleen Virnig, a St. Cloud resident who has helped organize talks to raise alarms about refugee resettlement from Muslim countries, said Trump is taking “a common-sense approach to safety for our country.” She said the United States should focus on defeating ISIL and aiding people displaced within Syria or in neighboring countries — rather than resettling refugees from “a vastly different culture.”
Meanwhile, the administration should prioritize resettling members of Christian and Yazidi minorities targeted in Syria and Iraq, she said.
Among the refugees at Wellstone, some expressed concern that the new orders could drive some refugees to seek help from the terrorist groups that have displaced people in the first place.
Refugee Suud Olat said his parents and one brother finally arrived in the U.S. on Dec. 22, ending a screening and processing ordeal that started 21 years ago. Three relatives and many friends remain at the Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya, one of the largest in the world. It’s scheduled to be closed this year, with unknown consequences for the inhabitants.
“They were hoping to come to this country,” Olat said of his friends and relatives. “Now Al-Shabab will tell them, ‘Hey, America doesn’t want you. Come join us.’ ”
Staff writer Mila Koumpilova also contributed to this report.