Refugee families in Missoula

Two Congolese families stand together for a photo outside IRC offices in Missoula in October 2016. Fathers Joseph Bazunga and Gilbert Hategeka spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Uganda. Their children were born there.

Tommy Martino, The Missoulian

Missoula’s outgoing refugee resettlement director said Wednesday she won’t speculate on “what may or may not happen” to the program if President Donald Trump issues an executive order to drastically reduce the U.S. refugee program – including banning all refugees for four months.

“We don’t have any information other than what you might have, so basically, no comment,” said Molly Short Carr of the International Rescue Committee’s local office.

The Associated Press, which obtained a draft of the order, reported Wednesday it’s not clear if the draft will be revised. Trump is expected to sign it this week, according to The Associated Press.

It shows the new president intends to suspend for 120 days the national refugee program overseen by the Department of Justice, and will stop accepting Syrian refugees altogether.

He also plans to suspend issuing visas for those who’ve fled Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen. And Trump’s order will cap refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017 at 50,000. That’s less than half the 110,000 proposed by the Obama administration.

According to a Department of Justice website, as of Wednesday the number of legal refugee arrivals since the start of the fiscal year in October was 31,143.

Missoula is in various stages of resettling 53 refugees who began arriving in August. Since Jan. 1, nine Syrians and one Iraqi have moved here, joining 27 Congolese, 12 Eritreans and four Iraqis who landed in Missoula in the last five months of 2016.

Carr told the Missoulian on Wednesday that she has given the IRC her notice and she and her husband will be returning to the East to be closer to their families.

She is from Buffalo, New York, and worked with refugee resettlement in that city. Carr arrived in Missoula last July to open the IRC office after two years with the U.S. Refugee Admission Program’s Refugee Support Center in Kenya.

Patrick Poulin, who has directed the IRC office in Salt Lake City the past 10 years, is in Missoula as interim director while the search for a permanent replacement is conducted.

Carr said her departure has nothing to do with the national and state refugee scenes. Several bills aimed at discouraging or clarifying the state’s role in refugee resettlement have been drafted or proposed in the Montana Legislature.

The draft of Trump’s executive order cites the authority vested in the president by the U.S. Constitution and laws including the Immigration and Nationality Act “to protect the American people from Terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.”

Among the proposed stipulations in the draft order, which was posted Wednesday by the New York Times, Trump will direct the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to "prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality."

The two secretaries will recommend legislation to the president to assist with such prioritization "when necessary and appropriate."

Jennifer Sime, the IRC’s senior vice president of U.S. Programs in New York, issued a statement late Wednesday that said the agency is waiting for the final draft to see what Trump’s priority policies will be.

“The International Rescue Committee hopes the new administration and Congress continue America’s tradition of ensuring the most vulnerable among us have the support and opportunity they need and deserve,” Sime said, pointing to the nation’s “long, proud legacy of providing safe refuge for the world’s most vulnerable fleeing conflict and persecution.”

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