Executive Order Barring Refugees Puts Families at Risk, Weakens Communities

February 1, 2017

Guest Blog by Mike Mitchell, Maryland Nonprofits Board Chair and Associate Vice President of U.S. Programs at HIAS 


For most of my adult life, I’ve been helping those seeking refuge to build a place they could call home.  Early in my career, it was finding jobs for the unemployed; later it was building homes at Habitat for Humanity; and over the past half decade, it has been welcoming refugees seeking a new home in the United States.  These organizations depend on the commitment of volunteers, board members, and donors.  As they fulfill their mission, they create social capital.  It is why all of us must also grasp the wider implications each executive order, law, and policy has on nonprofits and the social capital they create.

HIAS, the nonprofit where I work, began welcoming immigrants in New York City in the late 1800s.  Founded to protect Jews fleeing the pogroms of Russia, it is the oldest refugee agency in the world now headquartered in Maryland but with a presence in 24 cities across the US and globally in places like Ukraine, Kenya, and Greece today.  Every day, I see the pride of nonprofit professionals making a difference and witness nonprofits in our region and the country who make our communities rich.  We cannot threaten the social capital they create anymore than we question the values etched into the documents that define our nation.  Doing so risks our identity and endangers the good nonprofits bring to our communities.

Last week’s Executive Order by the President barring refugees fleeing persecution puts vulnerable families at risk and undermines our American values.  It represents a reversal of progress, contrary to the character that we Americans profess makes us exceptional.  Further, the thousands of nonprofits, who welcome these refugees and introduce them to churches, synagogues, and employers across Maryland and the nation, will lose staff and capacity resulting in weaker communities.  This loss of capacity will be costly to rebuild if and when the temporary ban is lifted.  In one broad stroke, we can see how an Executive Order can infringe on human rights while undermining the communities we call home.

Mike Mitchell is Associate Vice President of U.S. Programs at HIASMike oversees U.S. Programs and serves as a strategic advisor on HIAS’ efforts to expand its refugee resettlement network and develop new models of partnership and service delivery, enabling the refugees we resettle to achieve greater success in their lives and to fully integrate into our communities, in partnership with HIAS’ Community Engagement team. He is an entrepreneurial nonprofit leader with extensive experience in executive, program, and financial management. Deep devotion to the potential of individuals, especially refugees and immigrants, in elevating the social and economic wealth of communities. Mike served as Vice President of Programs and Protection at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, and founded Retention Consulting. Mike served as chair, Mayor’s Task Force on New Americans, City of Baltimore and has a Certificate in Project Management, UMBC Training Center – May 2014 and has a BA from the College of William and Mary in Government and History, and Certificates in Management, Negotiation, Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management from Harvard Business School.



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