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In Missoula, refugees contemplate the unthinkable

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Rockies Today

October 30 · Issue #26 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

In Missoula, refugees contemplate the unthinkable
In the coming days, President Trump will finalize the lowest annual cap in the refugee program’s history. In Missoula, Congolese refugees are facing the repercussions, as Zolan Kanno-Youngs reports for The New York Times.
These refugees escaped Congo, but Trump’s policies may strand loved ones These refugees escaped Congo, but Trump’s policies may strand loved ones
MISSOULA, Mont. — On his first day in this small college town cradled between the Flathead and Lolo national forests, Funugo Nsanzinfura made sure to submit the paperwork necessary for his daughter, Faith, and her mother, Ayingeneye, to join him in the growing community of Congolese refugees here.
Since that day in 2018, he has cooked for students, prepared livestock at a market and bathed the disabled residents of a group home, stashing away what he could to reunite his family in Missoula, 8,400 miles and worlds away from the Ugandan refugee camp where he grew up. But the Trump administration’s move to slash the number of refugees admitted into the United States in the next 11 months by nearly a half has already canceled several planned refugee flights — including three this week — stranding more than 400 people cleared for transport and leaving Mr. Nsanzinfura in despair.
He is contemplating what was once unthinkable, a return to East Africa and the camp he finally escaped. “It’s my family which I need to take care of,” said Mr. Nsanzinfura, who is known as Joseph. “It made me lose hope that I will see them again here.”
As the White House prepares to finalize the fiscal year’s refugee cap at 18,000, the lowest number since the program was created four decades ago, many of the nearly 200 Congolese who settled in Missoula have answered desperate calls from relatives who have waited years in camps in Uganda or Tanzania for refuge in the United States. One woman has been pleading with community leaders to help her son, who recently emerged from a coma and is now alone in a camp. A local preacher prepared his three children to go to the airport last month to welcome their uncle, only to find out the morning of the arrival that the flight had been canceled.
In fact, the flights canceled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were the third batch to be scrubbed as refugee officials await final word on this year’s refugee cap, said a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. The next possible departures would be Nov. 5, if President Trump signs off on the annual cap before then.
Mr. Trump has made restricting refugee admissions part of his broader goal to limit immigration. This fiscal year’s 18,000 is down from the 30,000 let in between October 2018 and September 2019, and that was a fraction of the 110,000 that President Barack Obama offered refuge in the 2017 fiscal year.
The shriveling of the program comes as the number of people fleeing violence and persecution in the world totaled 70 million last year, the highest recorded since World War II. Mr. Trump is expected to finalize his refugee cap in the coming days, which will pair with a potentially divisive executive order that gives local activists more power to reject refugees chosen for resettlement in their communities. Together, the cap and the order will change the complexion of the nation’s refugee program.
Elsewhere in the region…
‘I just want my family complete.’ Boise refugees wary of Trump plan to cut admissions
An Iraqi who worked for the U.S. military found safety in Colorado. In the future, others like him may not because of Trump refugee cap.
No refugees allowed? Trump’s plan to give states and cities a veto prompts an outcry.
Watchdog sheds light on DOI's harassment problem
Hearing reveals Interior's ongoing sexual harassment investigations Hearing reveals Interior's ongoing sexual harassment investigations
The Interior Department’s internal watchdog revealed today his investigators have “eight active” cases involving allegations of sexual harassment.
A number of other cases have already been resolved, Interior Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt told a House panel. Interior has taken disciplinary action against 35 subjects as a result of Office of Inspector General investigations and agency referrals.
“Sixteen of those 35 employees are no longer in government service because they were removed, they resigned or they retired while under investigation,” Greenblatt told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Chaired by Rep. T.J. Cox (D-Calif.), the Oversight panel this morning heard a mix of good and bad news about the sexual harassment problem that has dogged the Interior Department.
The grim news is the prevalence of the behavior. In total, the OIG has opened 22 sexual harassment investigations since 2016.
“We have uncovered sexual misconduct in parks as large as Yellowstone and as small as Canaveral National Seashore; in a remote Bureau of Indian Affairs office and at the DOI headquarters … involving behavior ranging from disturbing, inappropriate touching to outright sexual assault,” Greenblatt testified.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday…
Former FWS administrator jailed for sexually assaulting subordinate
How to bring more light than heat to forest management?
Over the past few days, Scott McIntosh, the Idaho Statesman’s opinion editor, has written a series of columns about forest health in Idaho, inspired by a two-day junket to North Idaho put on by the Idaho Forest Products Commission. The goal of the series, he writes, is to have “an open discussion about potential solutions to the wildfire problem in Idaho and the West.”
As the West burns, how do we bring more light than heat in Idaho’s forest management debate? As the West burns, how do we bring more light than heat in Idaho’s forest management debate?
Loggers, environmentalists can—and should—co-exist if we want Idaho forests to survive
Amid forest health crisis, federal-state partnership speeds up timber sales
Joint efforts needed to overcome effects of climate change on Idaho forests
Meanwhile…
Scientists studying extreme winds and wildfires
Grazing allotments and grizzly allotments
Experts project 72 grizzlies will die due to cattle conflicts Experts project 72 grizzlies will die due to cattle conflicts
Federal wildlife officials foresee and have approved growing grizzly bear bloodshed on a sprawling complex of Bridger-Teton National Forest cattle grazing allotments recently permitted for the long haul.
The Bridger-Teton’s Pinedale District ranger, Rob Hoelscher, signed off in early October on a decision OK’ing the continuation of a historic grazing operation on 267 square miles of forestland that falls in the Upper Green and Gros Ventre river drainages. That decision instituted a number of minor changes, like giving the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association more flexibility in rotating its cows, tweaking utilization standards for vegetation heights and authorizing some new fencing.
A larger shift, however, is outlined in an accompanying document called a biological opinion, which estimates the federal action’s impact on a threatened or endangered species — in this case, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears. The updated overall estimate of grizzly bears that will be “incidentally taken” as a result of the Upper Green grazing, the April 2019 document says, is 72 bruins between the 2019 and 2028 grazing seasons.
“We had a number of conversations with the grizzly bear recovery coordinator and also with Wyoming Game and Fish,” said Nathan Darnall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy supervisor for Wyoming. “When we start talking numbers this large, we all have to pause for a second and ask if this number is sustainable.
“In looking at the grizzly population and looking at the future expansion of the population … we decided that this number, in concert with everything else, was sustainable,” he said.
What else we're reading today
Cities, tribes try a new environmental approach: Give nature rights
What it’s like to work in a flying smoke laboratory
As economies grow, so does homelessness in cities like Spokane, evidence suggests
State works to increase Eastern Montana tourism
A Colorado program helps businesses finance renewable energy projects
Alberta tables climate plan for industry, retains key parts of old legislation
First experiment installed at Wyoming CO2 research site
Montana faith groups take action on climate change
Tracking antenna set up along Salmon, Lemhi rivers to spy on baby chinook
Salt Lake now has the lowest unemployment in the nation among large metro areas
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812