Community Politics

President Trump’s travel ban is back in the news after judges decided they would allow grandparents and other relatives of U.S. residents to travel here.

The president’s travel ban has two parts: One is a 120-day pause on all refugees coming to the United States from any area of the world. The second part is a 90-day ban on anyone traveling from six majority Muslim countries. Travelers with a “bona fide relationship” to a U.S. resident can enter. What is considered bona fide has been up for debate. President Trump has said no to relatives such as grandparents.

But on Monday, a federal appeals indicated that grandparents and other relatives would be allowed. However, just because they would be eligible to travel to the U.S., doesn’t mean they get an automatic “in.”

Documentation on how a traveler proves a bona fide relationship has been inconsistently applied, agencies say. And if you’re a refugee who has fled war it may not be possible to get a birth certificate, marriage certificate or other needed documentation.

The legal battle over the ban has created uncertainty for local resettlement agencies. In Kentucky, agencies are located in Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Owensboro. 

“We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns,” says Maria Koerner, the Assistant Director of Kentucky Office for Refugees.

“I would say that number one who’s affected are refugees who are already here, and who are hoping to reunite with their family members and friends they have still back home or in a refugee camp.”

Kentucky anticipated welcoming over 2,400 refugees this fiscal year, which ends September 30. Approximately 43 percent of those refugees have ties to the U.S.  As of July 31, only about 1,500 refugees had arrived.

“Pauses in arrivals and less arrivals means a reduction in funding,” Koerner says. “Several agencies are having to lay off staff or reduce staff hours. So the infrastructure of the program is being lessened.”  

For example, Catholic Charities of Louisville has laid off about 20 staff members.

“We hope that refugees arrivals will go back to what they have been,” Koerner says. “But if you’ve laid off staff then you have 20 less people working for you and you can’t instantly hire 20 quality people to step back in.”

In July, 46 refugees arrived in the Commonwealth. In August, only four refugees came to the state. Beyond numbers, the stop-and-go travel ban leaves family members here in the Bluegrass, as well as those awaiting to be resettled and reunited, in limbo.

The president’s travel ban remains entangled in the courts. But there is one thing President Trump is able to solely control — how many refugees can enter the country for the next federal fiscal year, which starts October 1.  The number of refugees that Trump is expected to allow here remains uncertain.