By Kirk Petersen
Episcopal Migration Ministries has been on the front lines of immigration policy skirmishes throughout the Trump administration. Now the agency is searching for a new director, as the incumbent has been promoted to a senior position on the presiding bishop’s staff.
The Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson, who has overseen EMM since May 2016, was named Aug. 1 as canon to the presiding bishop for ministry within the Episcopal Church. That makes him one of three executives who collectively oversee virtually all the programs of the Episcopal Church.
Demetrio Alvero, Stevenson’s deputy director, has been named interim director of EMM. “Demetrio’s been doing this a long time,” Stevenson told TLC. “There will not be a beat skipped in the work of EMM.”
When President Trump introduced a travel ban and moratorium on refugee resettlement during his first week in office, it threatened the very existence of EMM, which receives most of its funding from the federal government based on the number of refugees it resettles.
A refugee is defined [Vimeo] by EMM as “a person who has fled his or her home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality or membership to a social or political group.” Refugees are distinct from immigrants who came to the United States to seek employment or to reunite with family.
EMM, which is wholly operated by the Episcopal Church, is one of nine agencies in the United States that for decades have worked with the federal government to resettle all refugees entering the country.
The agency has always been carried on the church’s annual budget as a break-even operation. EMM staff members are employees of the Episcopal Church, but their compensation and all costs of the programs are normally covered by the per capita income generated by resettled refugees.
In February 2017, the Executive Council provided $500,000 in emergency funding to keep the agency afloat, as EMM scrambled to minimize the need for cutbacks in its national network of resettlement partners.
EMM was responsible for resettling nearly 6,000 refugees in 2016, working with its 30 affiliates in 23 states. The affiliates, which are independent 501c(3) organizations, do the day-to-day work of directly resettling refugees and integrating them into American society.
Today there are only 14 affiliates. Stevenson explained that the others were not closed, but EMM terminated its contracts with them. The terminated affiliates are still working with other resettlement agencies, but EMM no longer has access to them.
The U.S. Department of State had ordered that resettlement organizations can be affiliated with only one of the nine national agencies. This meant that some of the other national agencies turned over their refugee flow to EMM, so “we have the same capacity over those 14 sites that we had over the 30 sites in 2016.”
But capacity is not the same as actual resettlement, and EMM will fall far short of its 2016 caseload when the current federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 1. The nearly 6,000 refugees EMM resettled in 2016 were part of a nationwide cohort of nearly 85,000. Stevenson declined to provide specific data for EMM for this year, but said the nationwide total will be less than 22,000, and EMM’s decline will be roughly proportionate.
The lost relationships with affiliates also means “you lose infrastructure, you lose the brain trust within all of those organizations,” Stevenson said. “We had 30 different sites; if we had an issue with a refugee or refugee family that we needed help in one location, we had other locations to go to for that assistance.”
Stevenson is a passionate advocate for refugees and for EMM. “There are a lot of things America does well, there are a lot of things we don’t do well,” he said. “One of the things that we do well is refugee resettlement …. We do it inexpensively, we do it effectively, we do it efficiently.” He said he was speaking not just about EMM, but about the entire national resettlement infrastructure.
As an example, he cited the work EMM does with its affiliates to help refugees acclimate to their new home, providing cultural orientation and, if necessary, job training, and English-language instruction.
Of the refugees who take part in the acclimation program, 84 percent are self-sufficient after six months — “a phenomenal statistic,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson’s new position became available in May when his predecessor, the Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, was elected Bishop of the Rio Grande. The diocese encompasses New Mexico and the El Paso region of Texas. Hunn’s consecration is scheduled for Nov. 9 in Albuquerque.
Stevenson said that although EMM’s work is not as hectic as it was in early 2017, there is still a lot of uncertainty. Speaking metaphorically, he said “this equation has far too many variables and not enough constants for us to solve.”
But, he added, “there’s also certainty in the system. The certainty is that we are changing lives for the better, and we are saving lives, each and every day.”