SAN ANTONIO – Catholic Charities, the city’s largest and oldest refugee agency, has been forced to slash $3 million from its budget, lay off eight of its staff members and leave 40 vacancies unfilled.
Antonio Fernandez, president of Catholic Charities, said he’s had to “drastically reduce” its refugee program as a result of the President Donald Trump’s initial travel ban and now the revised version that excludes Iraq, Iraqi interpreters and legal residents.
“If we don’t have refugees coming, we don’t have to send people to the airport to pick them up and take them to their homes and helping them with English, getting jobs and so on,” Fernandez said.
He said yet last year, Catholic Charities help resettle 1,900 people from Syria, Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Congo and Cuba as well providing shelter for Central American women and children awaiting asylum.
But as a result of the first executive order in January, Fernandez said former President Barack Obama’s promise of admitted 110,000 refugees was cut by almost half, to 50,000.
“For San Antonio, we were thinking maybe around 900 to 950, and now we know it’s going to be around 500, maybe 600,” Fernandez said.
At a news conference in Washington, D.C., announcing the revised ban, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This executive order responsibly provides a needed pause so we can carefully review how we scrutinize people coming from these countries of concern.”
However, Fernandez said the refugees who arrive already have been carefully vetted, “by the FBI, CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and immigration services.”
Sarwat Husian, president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations who also serves on its national board, said, “We feel it is a Muslim ban.”
Husian said she predicts CAIR will not “sit quietly” in response to the latest travel ban.
“With the first ban, we filed a lawsuit. Probably this time, we’ll have to do the same thing,” she said.
Husian said she’s concerned about the families being separated from loved ones because of the 90-day ban affecting six Muslim-majority countries.
Fernandez said he agrees. “I’m very sad, devastated for them because many people already have families in San Antonio and the U.S.,” he said.