After more than a year of preparation, there’s a lot of uncertainty now in Northampton, Massachusetts. The city that was getting ready to welcome the first of dozens of refugees expected in 2017. On Sunday afternoon, residents gathered to learn what President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration means, and what they can do about it.
Less than an hour before Trump signed the executive order on Friday, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner of Catholic Charities put the finishing touches on documents confirming that two families — one from Iraq one from Bhutan — would be welcomed in Northampton. She’d previously completed paperwork for refugees from Syria and from the Congo: two brothers in their 20s and a mother, father and their 10-month-old son.
We are discovering who they are, and the children that they have,” Buckley-Brawner said. “It is just devastating to know when they know it will be anguish for them” when they know they aren’t coming here anytime soon.
The president’s executive order prevents all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days. It stops all refugees from Syria indefinitely.
Buckley-Brawner said she is disappointed and angry, but as she told a crowd at Beit Ahavah, a synagogue in Northampton, she’s not giving up.
“I’m here going ahead with what we had planned to do,” she said to applause. “Because that’s the way we’re going to move.”
Buckley-Brawner said her agency has made promises to refugees.
“We’ve said, ‘Yes, we will resettle you.’ We cannot leave them hanging,” she said. “They are going to feel abandoned anyway, because there is no way I can communicate to them directly right now. But we can hold them in our hopes and our prayers…through what will be a very difficult four, five, maybe six months.”
A lot is in place in Northampton: 800 volunteers, at least three apartments so far, donated furniture and clothing. Jobs have been offered. Even a group of mental health counselors is poised to help.
People in the audience had a lot of questions, such as where are the refugees now who are slated to come here? They’re still in their countries.
Steve Kessler, a physician from Northampton, asked Buckley-Brawner what agencies like hers were doing to fight the executive order.
“How to push back, educate, put pressure on the government to reverse this?” Kessler asked.
“I personally do not to believe that trying to reason with the administration is going to be fruitful,” Buckley-Brawner said. “The more that they get pushed back on, the more entrenched they become. So I feel very strongly our recourse is going to be the courts.”
Margaret Miller of Northampton said people felt frustrated and hopeless.
“Are there any actions steps you can recommend to people that would help with the facilitating of the entrance of the refugees or anything?” Miller asked.
Start writing, start writing, start writing. I don’t care if they are your representative — just write!” said Buckley-Brawner. “Saying to our congresspeople, ‘You cannot sit still with this one.'”
Many left the meeting vowing not to sit still. Some said they were moved to learn about the refugees as real people, like the brothers from the Congo.
So close to getting here, but not yet.