Immigration has been at the forefront of news coverage this week in the wake of President Donald Trump signing executive orders banning refugee resettlement and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The orders have been successfully challenged in many courts across the nation, and today, a federal judge in Michigan ordered that officials temporarily halt enforcement of the new immigration restrictions, specifically restrictions against lawful permanent residents.
While such orders are encouraging, the future for non-U.S. citizens has never been more uncertain.
That was evident Thursday night as a group of people gathered at Raleigh Durham International Airport to welcome home a refugee family of six from the Democratic Republic of Congo. A man with airport security told the group that the family missed a connecting flight in Chicago and would not be showing up.
It didn’t take long for the group, balloons and welcome signs in hand, to start questioning the news — was it really a missed connection or was the family detained? Many decided to wait despite the news, some for over an hour.
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants of North Carolina Director Scott Phillips confirmed Friday morning that it was just a missed connection and that the organization’s clients were in the process of rescheduling their flight to the Triangle.
As an exception to Trump’s ban on refugee resettlement, the Department of Homeland Security said it would allow 872 refugees to enter the country this week after they were initially barred from flying. The Congolese family is part of that allowance.
When asked if they were the last refugee family expected to settle in North Carolina under Trump’s new orders, Phillips said he hoped not.
It’s difficult for officials and advocates to give precise and accurate answers in the face of what’s happening because there is still a lot of confusion about Trump’s orders.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a forum Wednesday night about immigration law under Trump’s administration. The only certain piece of advice from the two-hour event was that non-U.S. citizens should avoid air travel, especially outside of the country, at all costs until everything gets sorted out.
“Nobody knows what to expect in the future,” said C. Lynn Calder, an immigration attorney and professor at UNC School of Law’s Immigration Law Clinic.
Law enforcement officials from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Chapel Hill Police Department, Carrboro Police Department and the UNC-Chapel Hill Police Department were also on hand and assured the community that immigration was not a priority for their agencies.
“I don’t think any of our agencies, nor our communities that we serve expect us to be in the immigration business,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said he is paying attention to the news but his department’s mission is to serve the will of the community.
“I listen to my community, I’m intimately familiar with my community and I try to serve the needs of the community,” he said.
Blackwood said it’s hard to know exactly what advice to give to the immigrants living in fear in his community because it’s not a fear he knows personally, but it is one he can empathize with.
“I understand that the fear is real, and I understand that there is an atmosphere of uncertainty,” he said. “If I were in the [immigrant] community, I would reach out to the powers within my community, either law enforcement or community-based, that can give me assistance, that can give me advice, that can give me guidance.”
Jim Huegerich, senior ombuds for the Town of Chapel Hill, said he hopes the forum will spark dialogue throughout the region.
“I think it’s a good beginning,” he said, adding that he wants immigrants to know that they are not alone in this battle. “I’m really hopeful this is going to stir people from inaction to action.”
There will be an opportunity Saturday in downtown Raleigh to participate in a “no ban, no wall” day of action. A rally is planned from noon to 3 p.m. at Halifax Mall on Jones Street.
“MISSION: We stand in solidarity with Muslim, Latinx, refugee, and immigrant communities facing the impacts of recent political acts of discrimination, racism, hatred, and bigotry,” states a Facebook page that’s being used to organize the rally.
Phillips said Oak and Dagger Public House is also holding a fundraiser all day to benefit the local U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. All proceeds from Mil’s Pills drinks will be donated to the organization.