Refugee resettlement groups, lawyers feel effects of Trump immigration and refugee ban

The Trump administration’s recent immigration and refugee ban has left nonprofit workers and lawyers in Colorado feeling the effects of chaos and anxiety among clients as they deal with uncertainty of what sanctions will be placed on travel in the coming weeks. Organizations relayed stories of several refugees or immigrants in the Denver and Boulder metro areas whose plans were interrupted or outright stopped by the ban.

Unrolled in January, the executive order halted arrivals of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, halted the arrival of refugees from all countries for 120 days and indefinitely halted the arrival of refugees from Syria. There is currently a court-ordered hold on the ban, but its aftereffects are still being felt, and a revised version of the ban may be issued next week.

There are multiple refugee resettlement organizations in the area who were impacted by the initial travel ban. For the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s African Community Center in Denver, the ban has thrown a wrench into its operations. According to managing director Melissa Theesen, several families who were scheduled to arrive the week of the ban were unable to arrive.

“We had apartments ready to go for these families and we had to tell the landlords these families weren’t coming,” Theesen said.

Stationed in Denver, the ACC is one of three nonprofit organizations who are allowed to welcome refugees into the state of Colorado. They work with the state government to coordinate arrivals and help refugees set up houses, find jobs, find school for their children and help them integrate into the community. They work with refugees for up to five years after they enter the country.

The majority of the ACC’s refugees in recent years have come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, Theesen said. Iraq and Syria were specifically named in the immigration ban.

One of the other refugee resettlement organizations in Colorado is Lutheran Family Services of the Rocky Mountains in Denver. The largest refugee resettlement agency in the Rocky Mountain region, they have been resettling refugees since the 1980s. Recently, the majority of their refugees have come from Burma, Iran, Afghanistan, the Congo and Bhutan, according to LFS communications manager Rebecca Burris.

Both organizations reported that their refugees were experiencing a lot of fear and anxiety regarding the ban. Some had family members they were to planning to reunite with that they are now unable to see, according to Theesen.

Burris said many refugees were afraid to speak out against the executive order for fear of retaliation.

“These refugees come from hostile places where they might have been detained or tortured or persecuted for their beliefs, and speaking out brings back a lot of those memories,” she said.

Despite the setbacks, both organizations were determined to keep working to help refugees.

“We are motivated to make sure refugee resettlement continues as a core component of what America does in humanitarian efforts,” Theesen said.

They also mentioned a surge of community support. Theesen said that volunteer trainings were booked through the month of April, when usually they are rarely booked even a month out.

“Colorado has been a huge supporter of refugees, and we’re so thankful to live in a state that has been so welcoming and open to us, and hopefully will continue to be so in the future,” Burris said.

In addition to nonprofit workers, lawyers are also feeling the strain of the ban. Catherine Brown, an immigration lawyer based in Lafayette, said that that things have become increasingly chaotic for her and her clients since the ban went into effect. She specializes in family and business immigration, and said that across the board, her clients have been very anxious about their futures since the ban.

Brown described the implementation of the ban as “a nightmare.”

“We have a pretty good relationship with our United States Citizenship and Immigration Services local office, and it was fairly evident that he didn’t have a lot of instruction on how to implement some of the things that were coming down,” she said. This lack of oversight is a breeding ground for racism and discrimination against immigrants, she said.

Due to the confusion, Brown was not always able to provide her clients with clear information about what would happen to them if they went to an airport. She said one of her clients, a Turkish immigrant, decided to take a bus to a destination instead of a flight because “I couldn’t tell her predictably what would happen to her if she went to an airport, even though she was flying domestically.”

This atmosphere of confusion has had a chilling effect on those looking to immigrate to the U.S. from all sorts of countries, and Brown said that she even has a British client who was extremely concerned after the ban.

“I keep telling him ‘you’re male, you’re white, you’re not Muslim, you’re probably going to be fine,’ but he was investigated heavily at the border two weeks ago — it’s very unnerving,” she said.

Brown did not have any clients who were en route to the U.S. when the ban was announced, but she did have clients who were told their visa was going to be revoked or that their case would not be continued. She said the week directly after the ban was very emotionally draining for her. “I’m the one that has to talk to these people,” she said.

Brown believes both parties should be supporting immigration because it’s an economic gain. “If we want our economy to grow we need foreign labor, we need foreign entrepreneurs, we need these people,” she said. “We cannot live in a domestic bubble anymore. I’m hopeful people will start to realize it’s an economic necessity and that will take out the rhetoric.”

Brown believes the lack of education surrounding these issues is responsible for the negative perception of immigrants, a problem she wants to fix. A Christian, she hopes to mobilize churches in the area to advocate for refugee rights.

“How we treat our refugees, our Muslim neighbors, it’s not what Jesus would do,” she said.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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