One of Donald Trump’s most consistent promises to the American people is that he will create jobs. This week, one of his policies destroyed them.
On Wednesday, the large international relief and development organization World Relief announced that it will lay off more than 140 staff members in the United States. It will close offices in Columbus, Ohio; Miami; Nashville, Tennessee; Boise, Idaho; and Glen Burnie, Maryland. According to World Relief, those five offices have collectively resettled more than 25,000 refugees in the last 40 years.
Both the headline and first sentence of the organization’s announcement of the layoffs laid the blame squarely on the president’s shoulders. “As a direct result of the recent decision by the Trump Administration to dramatically reduce the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. throughout fiscal year 2017, World Relief has been forced to make the difficult decision to layoff 140+ staff members,” the press release began.
The refugee ban was met with significant and immediate opposition among religious leaders, among whom World Relief’s president, Scott Arbeiter, was one of the most vocal. “Some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now are Muslims,” he told CNN after Trump said that Christian refugees would be given priority over Muslims. “If we say no Muslim should be let in, we are denying the humanity and dignity of people made in the image of God.”
World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, is one of nine organizations authorized by the government to handle refugee resettlement. This week’s layoffs represent about 20 percent of the group’s U.S.-based employees. As the Syrian refugee crisis escalated last fall, the organization said it was handling its biggest case load since 1999, resettling 9,759 refugees in the previous 12 months. Contra Trump’s claims in 2015 that Syrians seeking asylum were “young, strong men,” 78 percent of Syrians admitted here were women and children, according to figures released last year by the State Department.
Even as Trump’s temporary ban winds it way through the legal system, it is having a devastating impact on other agencies that handle resettlement. The agencies are funded through a combination of federal money and private donations; most of the federal funds come in the form of one-off grants for each individual refugee the agencies resettle. The sudden cessation of refugees means a sudden cessation of funding. The International Rescue Committee launched an emergency appeal in January asking donors to help raise $5 million to keep open its 29 offices across the country, along with its field teams. Catholic Charities is asking for $8 million to save jobs in 80 locations. “It's a mess. It's just a mess,” Sister Donna Markham, the organization’s president and CEO, told Catholic News Service. “If we're talking about American jobs, this is laying off people in these public-private partnerships.” She said up to 700 employees could be affected by the order, with many of them losing their jobs.
In an interview with Christianity Today days before Trump’s ban went into effect in January, World Relief’s Arbeiter emphasized the difficulty of maintaining a high-capacity organization when the caseload suddenly drops to zero. “When you turn off the refugee flow completely for four months, that means you’re trying to carry all the infrastructure that you’ve developed over decades—great people with expertise and experience with these areas—how could we keep them on the payroll?”