Refugee Resettlement: What will court battle over travel ban mean for Rutland

RUTLAND, Vt. (NEWS10) – Refugees that were on their way to Rutland, Vt. are in a holding pattern due to an executive order that is now playing out in court.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27 that put a hold on refugees arriving from seven countries as part of his immigration ban.  Before it was signed, Rutland, Vt. was getting ready to welcome 100 Syrian refugees, but that may no longer be the case.

Currently, only two families have arrived. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) said its office is still waiting for more guidance from the state department as a legal battle is playing out in federal courts over the executive order.

Hunter Berryhill with Rutland Welcomes was looking forward to showing Syrian families a new way of life.

“These are people who need help, who have nowhere else to turn,” he said.

The Syrian refugees that were waiting for approval to get to Rutland are now in a holding pattern due to the executive order. Nine people, including children, made it to Rutland before the refugee program was suspended.

Berryhill and his group were ready for 91 others. They were prepared with boxes of donations piled into the Methodist church.

“Right now the one thing that is definite is that the president lowered the total number of refugees that the U.S. will accept in 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000,” Berryhill said. “That will probably have an impact on the number of refugees who will be resettled in Rutland, but we don’t know to what extent.”

“As far as we know, this current situation is a very complicated, but temporary, obstacle to refugee resettlement in Rutland,” he continued. “We hope to continue welcoming refugees to Rutland either after the executive order banning refugees is defeated or once the temporary three-month stay on accepting refugees runs its course.  We remain hopeful.”

Rutland Welcomes said the next group of refugees was scheduled to arrive in March.  That may not happen, and in the meantime, the security checks that families have undergone may expire.

Critics of the refugee program have said they are worried the refugees become a burden on the system.

USCRI said the refugee program requires the families to pay back air fare and become self-sufficient within four months of arriving meaning they have to pay their rent and pay taxes. The USCRI network nationally said 73 percent of refugees are able to find jobs within four months. That number jumps to 85 percent within six months.

“If your neighbor down the street, if their house burned down, you would not turn a blind eye to them,” Berryhill said.

Because of people like Berryhill, NEWS10 ABC was able to interview a group of men from Homs, Syria, who left their homes and were able to find safety.

“They treated us very well,” Syrian refugee Aiman Alsman said. “We have to return the favor back.”

Their journey to Albany, and freedom, was five years in the making.

“They did not expect to be refugees,” the group said.

Four of the men already have jobs in Albany. Alothman Ahmad, still in his teens, is enrolled at Albany High School and quickly making friends.

Some of the men still have family members in the Middle East, and they won’t have the same chance at a new life.

“Refugee isn’t a bad word,” Yaha Zakkour. “We got help and someone rescued us.”

Their message to those who are concerned about more people like them entering the country: “If I like war, I would stay there,” Mohammad Almelhim said.

He and his friends will likely never go back because there are no more places to live in a place called Homs.

“Our house is gone,” Zakkour said.

But now, in their new home in Albany, they no longer have to live like refugees.

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