Immigration & Refugees

Travel window opens and may now close on nine in Somali refugee family slated for KC

In a house in Kansas City’s old Northeast area that’s intended to be home for an incoming Somali family, Khadra Aden (left) and Mindy Akers, both with Della Lamb Community Services, recently showed off the kitchen area.
In a house in Kansas City’s old Northeast area that’s intended to be home for an incoming Somali family, Khadra Aden (left) and Mindy Akers, both with Della Lamb Community Services, recently showed off the kitchen area.

Days after their migration to Kansas City was halted, a Somali refugee family of nine was at the center of some promising news Monday regarding the prospects of arriving this week to begin life anew, said the organization sponsoring them.

But in the extremely live ball that has become U.S. immigration policy, hopes changed. “The problem right now is, nobody knows,” said Della Lamb Community Services spokesman Jonathan Q. Hyde late in the afternoon.

A rental home that had been lined up for the family — four girls, four boys and their mother, who is 36 — was featured Saturday in a story in The Star. The weekend passed amid much confusion over the legal status of President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban on refugees and the citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, including Somalia.

A leasing agent for Raineth Housing investment fund, which owns the house in Kansas City’s Northeast area, texted The Star at midday: “It’s a GO.” Della Lamb said the family was to arrive Wednesday.

By 4 p.m., however, the agency said the resettlement was on hold pending a U.S. appeals court’s ruling on Trump’s executive order.

“Everyone right now is scurrying in Washington,” said spokesman Hyde. “We may know more on Tuesday.”

The fate of many other refugees destined for Kansas City also remained unclear.

The nonprofit relocation group Jewish Vocational Services had 43 flight cancellations as a results of the travel ban, slated to arrive between last Tuesday and late February. Seven of the arrivals were to be reunited with family or friends already in the Kansas City area.

On Friday night, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle told the departments of State and Homeland Security to quit enforcing the ban. That prompted a weekend rush from foreigners who held valid visas to fly into the country while they could. The federal government estimates that 60,000 visas were canceled while the ban was in effect.

A four-bedroom bungalow on North Brighton Avenue was reserved for the large Somali family last week. But they were blocked from boarding a Thursday flight into KCI via New York City. It was not known Monday whether they remained in a Kenyan refugee camp.

When it appeared that the family would be barred from entering the country for months, the North Brighton Avenue house was put back on the open market Friday, said Diana Lawson, a leasing agent for Renters Warehouse.

She said Monday that arrangements had been made with Della Lamb to keep the family in consideration for the house.

Hilary Cohen Singer, executive director of Jewish Vocational Services, or JVS, said that refugee relocation agencies nationwide have received word through the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants that the U.S. State Department is busily trying to admit refugees who had been scheduled but were prevented from entering the country when the executive order was signed.

“From everything that we have heard,” Singer said, “they are scrambling to try to coordinate and book flights and get people here.”

Jewish Vocational Services is one of three refugee relocation organizations in the Kansas City area, along with Della Lamb and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. Among the refugees on Jewish Vocational Services’ list of arrivals, which all were canceled, were 15 individuals from four families from Somalia who had been living in a refugee camp in Kenya.

One Iraqi family of four were scheduled to come from a refugee camp in Turkey. Eight people from three families from Myanmar were traveling from a refugee camp in Thailand. Sixteen people from two families from the Sudan were traveling from a camp in Chad.

Jewish Vocational Services is now hoping to get word soon that its refugees will soon be heading in. Singer said the agency can get anywhere between 48 hours’ to three weeks’ notice that new families or individuals are arriving.

“We are hoping to get travel notices soon,” Singer said. “We are waiting and hoping that the families who were expected to come to Kansas City to start new lives will be able to get on a plane.”

Agencies such as Singer’s have been circulating an email from the State Department that indicates that the department has requested that refugee recollection efforts resume. “We are focusing on booking refugee travel through February 17,” said the State Department email, adding, “we will be issuing information about travel beyond February 17.”

Until then, the long-term fate of refugee relocation in the U.S. remains unclear.

“Even if it gets stopped again,” Singer said, “for each family that is able to actually make it here, that is hope for the future for that family.”

To be sure, the expected admittance of refugees once again into the United States is the latest development in a contentious narrative that began 10 days ago, on Jan. 27, when Trump signed the order affecting relocation of refugees into the United States.

The order suspended refugees from entering the U.S. for the next 120 days. The president did so, he said, to vet refugees more closely in an effort to protect American citizens from the threat of terrorism.

The executive order also indefinitely banned the admission of refugees from Syria and, for 90 days, banned citizens from seven mostly Muslim countries: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

The order spurred worldwide demonstrations, with critics noting that of the 180 people charged in terrorist plots against the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, a total of 11 came from the seven countries. Zero came from Syria, Sudan or Libya. No deaths resulted from any of the plots involving people from the seven countries.

The largest number of people charged, 81, have been U.S. citizens or legal residents, followed by Saudi Arabia at 18.

The ban immediately halted the entrance of refugees into the U.S. Many were turned away at airports until Friday, when Judge Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order that lifted the order nationwide.

One day later, on Saturday, the U.S. Department of Justice appealed the decision and accusing Robart of “judicial second-guessing of the president” and an “intrusion” into the president’s authority.

Trump in a post on Twitter said the “opinion of this so-called judge” would not last.

“The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart,” Trump said on Twitter. “Bad people are very happy!”

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

Kilindo Nalukuli, originally from the Congo, came to the United States from Tanzania as a refugee, talk recently at Della Lamb Community Services in Kansas City about her concerns regarding President Donald Trump and his stance on refugees.