Miguel Rodriguez is standing in Logan Airport with his hands full. He’s got several bouquets of flowers and two puffy winter jackets. One is for his wife and the other for his daughter. They are refugees fleeing violence in El Salvador, and their plane should arrive any minute.
They’re landing in the U.S. under a cloud of uncertainty about immigration. President Donald Trump’s much-maligned Executive Order blocked travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations and barred refugees from all over the world from coming to the U.S. for the next 120 days.
However, the Rodriguez family was already cleared for transit when Trump signed the travel ban, so they're among the last refugees allowed into the country before the ban goes into full effect.
But next to Miguel Rodriguez is his nephew, Efrian Vasquez. His mother and sister have not been so lucky. They were almost done with their applications for refugee status – a process that took well over a year – but with the ban, it’s unclear if they'll make it to Boston.
“All my family is texting me right now, [wondering] if they’re coming or not,” said Vasquez.
Plagued by gang violence, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates of any country not currently engaged in a war.
"I am scared for them," Vasquez added. He says he's hoping the ban is lifted in 120 days, but the resettlement organization he’s working with – the International Institute of New England, or IINE – says there’s no way to know. Even though the refugee ban in the Executive Order is a temporary measure, it could have long lasting implications – both for refugees and for the humanitarian organizations that help resettle them.
Alexandra Weber, the chief program office and Boston site director at IINE, says that even if Trump removes the refugee ban, there will likely be at least three big changes:
1. Extreme Vetting
Trump’s Executive Order stressed the importance of security, suggesting that refugees might have to go through an additional layer of clearance.
However, Weber says, “we haven’t understood where anyone thinks the gaps are in vetting to understand how they would improve those gaps. So there might be, at the end of the 120th day, no one getting in because they can’t meet the demands of extreme vetting.”
A State Department spokesperson said they are currently determining the proper way to implement the Executive Order.
2. Clearance Could Expire
Parts of the refugee vetting process have time limits. That means security or medical clearances could lapse during the ban – and then it's back to the drawing board.
“They have expiration dates. Generally, they’re several months,” explains Weber. “So anyone who has an expiration date within the next 120 days will have to go through that entire process again.”
3. Reduced Funding for Resettlement Agencies
The federal government pays organizations like IINE for each person they serve. No new refugees coming in means big budget cuts for these organizations, coupled with bills that are hard to pay. That’s especially challenging since IINE has already set everything up for the refugees who were scheduled to arrive.
“So we’ve got a lot of apartments we’ve already paid for, goods we’ve already purchased,” Weber said. “So, any gaps in funding will have a dramatic impact.”
While Weber is worried about the financial implications of the ban, she says right now she needs to focus on welcoming the final few refugees.
At Logan Airport, Rodriguez’s wife and daughter emerge through the Arrivals Door. They rush over to one another, wiping away tears. Rodriguez says his family is now together – complete.
Although the door was open for Rodriguez's family, it has been shut – at least for now – for his nephew's mother and sister in El Salvador and for refugees around the world, regardless of where they're from.