Private sector social service agencies on Jan. 8 were relieved of a burden associated with persuading state and local governments to accept emigrés in their communities when a federal appeals court upheld an injunction against a Trump administration decision to give those jurisdictions the power to prevent refugee resettlement within their borders.
Executive Order 13888, announced in September 2019, provides that “[s]ome States and localities . . . have viewed existing consultation as insufficient, and there is a need for closer coordination and a more clearly defined role for State and local governments in the refugee resettlement process.” President Donald Trump’s favored method of imposing that “closer coordination” — a near-seamless state or local government veto on refugee resettlement — immediately drew opposition from immigrant advocates and refugee services organizations.
The shift of control caused by the executive order is unprecedented, according to International Refugee Committee – Denver executive director Jennifer Hendrick Wilson. “That’s something that’s never happened in the history of the program,” she said. “The program was formalized with the Refugee Act of 1980 and, in the 40 years since, there has never been that kind of authority.”
Wilson said the order imposed difficult logistical burdens on resettlement agencies and legal conundrums for cities and towns. “It forced us into a situation where we had to engage with the governor’s office and, here in Colorado and in some other Western states, not only counties but municipalities,” she said. “In the West, especially, many of the counties felt that they do not have the authority to commit on behalf of cities.” Wilson said she spent hours educating county commissioners and city council members about the benefits of refugees.
Meanwhile, city governments sometimes found themselves unsure of how to comply with Trump’s order. Refugee advocates are used to helping city governments determine how to help newly-arrived refugees, Wilson said, but the extent of their legal authority to deny or approve settlement proved to be a confusing question.