Despite executive order blocks, Ascentria forced to cut positions as refugee arrivals slow

  • Jay Sharma, resettlement coordinator for Ascentria Services for New Americans, spent 17 years in resettlement camps – more than half his life. He started working with Ascentria in 2013. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/21/2017 12:19:49 AM

Ascentria Care Alliance’s Concord office has trimmed its staff by one-third as a result of President Donald Trump’s two executive orders halting refugee admissions to the United States for 120 days.

While supporters of Trump see this as part of the process of putting “America First,” those opposed to the measures worry not only about the impact on refugees, but America’s future as a welcoming, safe haven.

“It is a very frightening situation,” Jay Sharma, the Concord-area resettlement coordinator, said.

Ascentria announced Monday that 20 total employees in the New Americans program either were laid off or had their hours reduced, and four other vacant positions were eliminated. These cuts, which went into effect last week, were spread among the Worcester, Mass.; Westfield, Mass.; and Concord offices.

They correlated with the start date of Trump’s second order, which was scheduled to go into effect on March 16. Late last week, federal judges from Hawaii and Maryland temporarily blocked parts of the executive order from taking effect.

Ascentria said there remains a stipulation to reduce refugee arrivals in the United States by 64 percent (from 110,000 to 50,000) in fiscal year 2017, however, which continues to affect the agency.

“The funding for refugee settlement is on a per capita basis,” Amy Marchildon, the director for services for New Americans, said Monday. While 34 refugees arrived in Concord in February and March of last year, just 15 have come during the same period this year.

Without the federal dollars tied to new arrivals, she said, “it diminishes the infrastructure for resettlement.”

Marchildon said of the Concord office, “All in all, we had six people that were impacted either through layoffs or reduction in hours.” There are now 11 positions there, down from 18 positions (which included a vacancy).

America First

Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry state representative who acted as a key adviser on veterans’ issues for Trump during the 2016 campaign, is completely onboard with the president’s efforts to reduce refugee arrivals.

“I think it’s about time we take care of America first,” he said. “The refugees that come here, right now, they’re sucking off the government because we support them. When we have no more homeless, when we have no more single mothers (living in shelters) ... then we can maybe look at refugees.”

Baldasaro, who was one of the Trump delegates at the 2016 Republican National Convention, said he’s happy with the job Trump is doing so far.

“He’s finally putting America first ... versus other countries,” Baldasaro said. “There’s only so much money to go around. We have to live within our means.”

What’s next?

Marchildon said what “started out as a horrible week” last week ended fairly well. By referring people to community partner organizations as well as some open positions in different parts of the Ascentria organization, she said most of the people laid off have since found other employment. In addition, there appears to be enough capacity to serve the refugee clients who are already here.

“Certainly we would have never wanted to make all these changes,” Marchildon said. “We feel really fortunate that most of the affected people landed on their feet.”

But Sharma, the Concord resettlement coordinator, is still worried that he could be the next person scheduled for a visit to the human resources offices.

“I don’t know when is my turn,” he said. The 22-year-old Concord resident has been working for Ascentria since 2013, a year before he gained his U.S. citizenship (Sharma said it was far from his first job here.) He arrived in America in 2009 – prior to that, he fled Bhutan with his family after living in resettlement camps for years.

Sharma said his family had to leave their home country as Nepali-speaking Bhutanese under the “one people, one nation” policy enacted in the late 1980s.

“We didn’t belong to that one nation, you know,” he said.

They were among the 100,000 people deported, Sharma said, and now, there seem to be parallels between the place he left and the one he’s come to.

“People have been victimized back home, and we always have this fear with us,” Sharma said. “We talk about America as a place we’ll be safe, we’ll be welcome, we’ll have hope, we’ll be protected. That is not true now.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, or on Twitter

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