The International Institute of Akron has been resettling refugees for a hundred years and anticipated resettling a record 700 this year. But those plans are likely to change today, when President Donald Trump signs an executive order putting all refugees on hold for at least four months – and keeping out those from Syria indefinitely. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with the Institute’s Liz Walters about the impact of Trump’s act.
After more than a decade of resettling mostly Bhutanese refugees, the International Institute of Akron anticipated a shift this year, with more people arriving from Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
Liz Walters says even if Trump’s edict lasts only four months, that’s a major risk for people fleeing war and violence.
“To say we’re disappointed would be an understatement. Working with these communities every day, you come to admire the passion they have for the values we all share as Americans – the ability to speak freely, to worship freely, to raise their children in a safe place. Those are values we all share.
“And to demonize people who come to this country seeking safety and prosperity and peace is really a disservice to the values that we all hold and that our government is supposed to represent for us both here and abroad.”
Walters says links between terrorism and those entering the U.S. through official refugee programs “have been almost none if any at all.”
“The program is incredibly secure and people who come into the United states through the refugee resettlement program on average go through18 to 24 months of vetting and 15 steps. Five of those are biometric screening that include fingerprints and coordination between all of our departments that have to do with homeland security and safety, in-person interviews, medical screening. It’s a very long thorough process.
“And most importantly, these are folks who are coming here to flee violence, to flee unrest, not to perpetrate it. They are coming to America because of all those things that we love about this country already. Prosperity, peace, safety, and opportunity to really chase your dreams.”
Walters says there’s no way of knowing how many refugees will be coming to Akron this year or when. Even without Donald Trump’s order, “We don’t really get a number. Nor do we have a schedule (such as): ‘You’re getting 100 in July, 100 in August.’”
Rather, she says, the ebb and flow depends on at what point they’re finishing the vetting process. So you never know who’s coming through the pipeline. At the federal level they do, but we don’t. We’re the last to find out.”
She says refugees arriving in the last year have different questions than those in the past, most tied to Donald Trump’s campaign promises, including a promise of mass deportations.
“We got a lot of questions to our legal team about what their rights are, the legal status of their visa.”
As people fleeing political and religious persecution, those with official refugee status can get green cards 90 days after their arrival.
What about families left behind?
Beyond the legal questions, Walters says many of the refugees are wondering about their families.
“Anything that puts into place religious tests or implied religious tests or bans on specific nationalities (from entering the country), it always to impacts the people who are currently here. Because most of them still have family abroad.
“So to be a refugee who has tried to come here to build a new life and to find out your family can no longer join you, I can only imagine how difficult that must be for some of the folks who have come to call Akron home.
That’s Liz Walters of the International Institute of Akron. She argues that banning refugees will cost the broader community of Akron as well as the refugees, who she says have contributed to the economic and cultural life of the city.