NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Local refugee resettlement agency makes staffing changes in response to executive order

With refugee arrivals slated to come to a halt as President Donald Trump's revised executive order on immigration takes effect, a local refugee resettlement agency is making some staffing changes but trying to ensure its workers stay employed.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the only refugee resettlement agency in the western two-thirds of the state, is reassigning several of its seven full-time and one part-time refugee resettlement workers in the wake of the order, which suspends the nation's refugee program for 120 days.

Four of the full-time employees will continue working in the refugee resettlement program, said Richard Klinge, senior director of advocacy and legal services for the agency. The rest of the workers are being reassigned to other openings within Catholic Charities or to job openings at other nonprofit partners in the city for the next several months, Klinge said.

Local refugee resettlement workers have skills that are not easily replicated, Klinge said. Many of them speak at least two languages, and they've gained valuable experience over time through working with refugees from many different cultures and many different parts of the world.

"We want to keep our employees available if things ramp back up quickly," Klinge said. " … We’re going to be monitoring (the situation) for the next few months."

A number of other Catholic Charities agencies across the country have also been shifting refugee resettlement staffers into other programs. Some have been forced to lay off employees as a result of the recent executive orders on immigration.

Last month, after Trump signed the initial executive order, Catholic Charities USA announced that the order would put at risk close to 700 jobs at its agencies across the country, according to the Associated Press. Nationwide, Catholic Charities agencies resettled approximately 23,000 of the nearly 85,000 refugees who arrived in the U.S. last year, according to the AP.

Although the executive order is scheduled to take effect Thursday, Klinge said his agency was notified Monday that the government would continue to allow refugee arrivals through the end of the month for refugees whose flights were booked before Thursday.

Several legal challenges are pending, casting uncertainty on the situation. 

"If another injunction is issued, we'll re-evaluate again," Klinge said. " … It's a day-to-day issue of monitoring what is going to happen."

In addition to the 120-day suspension of refugee admissions, the revised executive order reduces the total number of refugees who may be resettled in the U.S. during the fiscal year ending in September to 50,000, which is a significant reduction from the 110,000 goal set by the Obama administration.

Unlike Trump's original executive order, signed Jan. 27, the revised order, signed March 6, does not indefinitely bar Syrian refugees.

The revised order also imposes a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The executive orders have caused anguish for refugees around the globe and slowed the flow of refugees coming to Oklahoma City.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City originally expected to resettle approximately 225 refugees in the Oklahoma City area this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, 2016 and ends Sept. 30, 2017, Klinge said. By the end of this month, the agency will have resettled 39 refugees so far this fiscal year, Klinge said.

"Normally at this time of year we’d be (at) 50 percent of arrivals or approaching that," Klinge said.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City's Refugee Resettlement program operates under four federal grants, and that funding is affected by the number of refugee arrivals.

Refugee resettlement workers help newly-arrived refugees adjust to life in the United States. Before a refugee arrives, the agency makes sure the refugee has somewhere to live and basic essentials to get started, such as furniture and food.

After a refugee arrives, resettlement workers help the refugee in a number of ways that may include assistance applying for a Social Security card, enrolling children in school or arranging medical appointments, as well assistance with English language and cultural orientation classes and job development services.

The goal of the program is to help newly-arrived refugees to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. 

Each refugee receives $1,125 to help with basic expenses starting out. That money comes from a refugee reception and placement grant through the U.S. Department of State.

Some refugees also can qualify to receive a monthly stipend for up to their first eight months in the United States while they are looking for work. The stipend amount is based on a scale that starts at $190 for an individual. Refugees must meet certain eligibility requirements to qualify for the funding, such as actively participating in employment services.

Darla Slipke

Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›