Across the state, people working to resettle refugees and immigrants reacted with heartbreak and anger Saturday to President Trump’s executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
“This is just really ugly, for us to close our doors like this,” said Marc Jacobs, chief executive at Jewish Family Service of Metrowest. Jacobs watched more than six months of careful planning — and the desperate hopes of people fleeing war for their lives — evaporate Friday night when the executive order went into effect. The order was later partially stayed by a federal judge, but the implications remained unclear.
The order closes the border to immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days, bars all refugees for 120 days, and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely. The order caused confusion for people who were traveling when it was signed, and protests broke out Saturday in Boston and elsewhere around the country.
For Jacobs, whose organization has built a wide coalition of groups — synagogues like Temple Beth Elohim, Islamic centers, the Episcopal church, academic institutions, and health-care providers — to support 15 Syrian refugee families, the effect of the order was immediate and harsh. Five families had made it to America. Ten had not.
The last family had arrived Tuesday night, he said. They stepped off a plane at Logan International Airport, the mother cradling their 1-year-old, the father holding the hand of their 5-year-old. They were just thankful to be safe, he said. When they got to their new apartment to enjoy a welcome meal cooked by another refugee, their 5-year-old took to her new toys with delight, holding a tea party for her teddy bear.
“These are young parents that would do anything for their children,” Jacobs said. “It’s a child at a time. That’s what the horror of this is.”
The timing of the executive order — signed on International Holocaust Rememberance Day — lit up social media. One Twitter account spent the day tweeting the entire passenger manifest of the St. Louis — a ship carrying about 900 Jewish refugees to the United States in 1939, which refused it entry.
“Our community knows all too well the suffering that comes from a time America turned away refugees,” said Rabbi David Lerner, the rabbi at Temple Emunah in Lexington and president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis.
Many synagogues, he said, are taking in and aiding refugees. For Jews and many other religious groups, charity toward refugees and immigrants is a core principle of faith.
“People find this almost a pure opportunity to do what the Gospel says, what our religion teaches — which is the value of serving the poor and rejected, and welcoming strangers and sojourners,” said Judson Brown, a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton, which has made a commitment to sponsor a refugee family of three from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The family was slated to arrive sometime between February and May, he said. Church members and community members have been busy arranging them housing, gathering furniture, and lining up language instruction. Parishioners were even planning to learn a bit of Swahili and Kinyarwanda.
But on Saturday, Brown, like many other people trying to digest the executive order, was not sure how or if it would affect their plans, as the DCR is not one of the seven countries named in the executive order. Even without the order, he said, the process of coming to the United States includes extensive vetting and a thick web of rules and regulations.
“It’s not exactly a railroad train,” he said.
At St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Weston, where parishioners had raised $2,375 in grants and gift cards toward an interfaith effort organized by Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley to sponsor two families of Syrian refugees for a year, the Rev. Lynn Campbell said she was crestfallen.
The first family, which includes four children under the age of 8, arrived last week. But the second family, due to arrive in the spring, will probably not be resettled after all.
Community organizations saw their plans changed as well.
The International Institute of New England, which resettles about 600 refugee and immigrant families every year, was expecting to receive a family of four from Syria this Monday, said president and CEO Jeffrey Thielman.
Four years after painstakingly following every regulation from the US government, the institute had an apartment and a new life waiting for them in Lowell. But with the order, Thielman said, they have been stranded in Turkey.
“This is a very mean-spirited and unnecessary executive order,” Thielman said. “This isn’t going to help keep the United States safer. It’s not going to make us a stronger country.”