No Retreat From Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees to America

By Cathryn Miller-Wilson, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania

Given the constitutional and humanitarian concerns raised by President Trump’s immigrant and refugee bans, DJOP asked Cathryn Miller-Wilson, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania, to share her thoughts. The organization was founded in 1882 as the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants. Its original mission was to assist the influx of Eastern European Jews coming to the Philadelphia region fleeing the pogroms in Russia. Now known as HIAS Pennsylvania, the organization works to create a welcoming and secure environment for immigrants and refugees and their families – from any ethnic, cultural or religious background – and joins forces with other faith-based groups and the larger community to advocate for a fair and humane immigration system.

hias-logoI appreciate this opportunity to address supporters of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. HIAS Pennsylvania’s mission is to provide legal and supportive services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from all backgrounds, in order to assure their fair treatment and full integration into American society. HIAS Pennsylvania advocates for just and inclusive public policies and practices. We meet the goals of our mission through four programs: the Immigration Legal Services Program, the Refugee Resettlement Program, the Citizenship Assistance Program, and the Asylee Outreach Program.

The three Executive Orders signed by President Trump on January 27 had an immediate and devastating impact on our clients and our agency. The first two orders called for massively increased law enforcement resources to be devoted to arresting, detaining and deporting more people. We saw this implemented this week with raids all over the United States and hundreds of people detained and deported. While the administration continues to insist that these “raids” are nothing new, there is, in fact, a major difference between what occurred this past week and what has occurred in the past, and that is enforcement priority. Past administrations have generally focused on those with criminal convictions and, in some cases, only violent criminal convictions.

The current administration has made it clear that every undocumented person is a priority. While they certainly have the authority to do this, it leaves chaos and instability in many of our communities. Many undocumented persons are parents of U.S. citizen children who could be sent to foster care as a result of their parents being deported. Many undocumented persons are fully employed, and their sudden absence from the workforce leaves employers unexpectedly short-staffed. Many undocumented persons were brought to this country when they were young children. This is the only country they have ever known. They do not know the language of their so-called country of origin, nor do they have any place to go in those countries that they barely, if at all, remember. HIAS Pennsylvania’s attorneys and accredited representatives are unable to keep up with the flood of panicked calls from our clients.

The third Executive Order was the cause of all of the chaos at the airport and is the subject of the current litigation in the 9th Circuit. This order is multifaceted. It contains a ban on all persons from Syria, a temporary ban for all persons from seven named Muslim-majority countries, and a temporary ban on the refugee resettlement program until security measures can be increased. Finally, it reduces the overall number of refugees that this country will accept from 110,000 to 50,000. A shamefully low number given that there are 63.5 million refugees in the world today.

All of the bans have been stayed by the Federal Court. The stay was put in place for many reasons, but the main one is that the Government was unable to produce any evidence that these bans were necessary or rational, and the State of Washington was able to show that it was more likely than not that they would be able to prove that it was discriminatory. We are, of course, thrilled at the current state of things regarding the bans, but unfortunately, prior to the Court’s orders, more than 100 people were detained across the nation and travel was severely disrupted overseas for several thousand more. HIAS Pennsylvania’s senior staff attorney, Ayo Gansallo, was co-counsel on the litigation affecting the Philadelphia detainees, and she and her colleagues were successful in bringing back the Syrians who were here legally, but nevertheless sent back to Qatar once they had arrived.

We anticipate on-going battles regarding immigration and refugee work and funding over the next four years. To learn more about our work and support it, go to For up to date information about actions we are taking, go to our Facebook page at


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