SPOKANE, Wash. -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Donald Trump’s executive order on travel from several mostly Muslim countries, rejecting a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority.
The order prevents travelers from six Muslim-majority nations from coming to the United States. It has been blocked by lower courts, but the Supreme Court allowed it to go back into effect in December 2017 as legal arguments were heard.
World Relief Spokane director Mark Finney said that the travel order, as well as a lower number of refugees admitted to the US overall, has resulted in a large drop in the number of people being resettled in the Spokane area. Finney said that 154 refugees have been placed in the Spokane area so far in fiscal year 2018, and a total of about 200 are projected by the fiscal year’s end.
For comparison, about 400 were resettled in 2017 and about 600 were resettled in 2016 when the organization was seeing record months.
In response to the lower numbers, World Relief has undergone two rounds of layoffs.
“We don’t need as many staff [members] if there’s not as many refugees coming in certain programs, but in other programs we’re already serving a community of about 10,000 refugees and immigrants here in Spokane,” Finney said. “We really don’t need to be losing staff because we’re supporting a community that’s already here, so that is challenging.”
Since the travel order has been back in effect since December of last year, Finney said World Relief Spokane has been operating as if the Supreme Court will uphold it this month by keeping their staffing levels lower.
The issue is a thorny one legally. Federal law grants the president power to restrict entry to people that he declares are “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” However, another federal law prohibits restrictions based solely on a person’s nation of birth.
“If we know there’s a certain person or groups of people that we have reason to think are not safe, then absolutely we should keep them out; but, banning entire nations of people—most of whom applying as refugees are women and children—those kinds of folks are all being lumped into this giant ban on a huge majority of people who need the help we can provide here," said Finney. "And honestly, we need the labor and the other things they can provide to our economy and our community.”
The UN estimates that there are currently more than 25 million refugees.