Refugee advocates worry President Donald Trump’s new appointee to run the agency charged with helping newly arrived refugees has little relevant experience, and fear this could mean the White House is prioritizing conservative ideology over experience when filling key posts.
The new head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is E. Scott Lloyd, a conservative lawyer from the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group.
“He doesn’t appear to have much experience with resettlement, which is somewhat concerning given that this is a program that’s been in operation since 1980 and has been very effective in receiving, resettling, and integrating refugees across the country,” said Melanie Nezer, the vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS, a Jewish organization that contracts with HHS to resettle refugees in the U.S. “We hope he’s as committed to it as those of us who work on refugee resettlement are.”
Reached for comment about Lloyd’s hiring, spokespersons for HHS and the White House told The Daily Beast they do not comment on personnel issues.
On March 24, according to a source at HHS, employees in the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement got an email announcing Lloyd would head the office. Before heading to the office, Lloyd worked in the Knights’ public policy office, where he traveled to Iraq several times to help develop a major report on the danger ISIS posed to Iraqi Christians. The State Department later recognized ISIS’s attacks on Christians as genocide. Lloyd has also written numerous articles criticizing abortion and arguing that access to contraceptives make the procedure more common.
Lloyd’s work through Knights of Columbus with Christians fleeing ISIS appears to be what’s most relevant to his new position. In a speech at CPAC titled “We’re All Infidels Now” on March 3, 2016, Lloyd indicated his experience with refugees hadn’t been a central part of his legal career, noting the ISIS report had been his focus “over the past few weeks.”
As the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Lloyd’s job will face scrutiny from all corners. Trump spent the presidential campaign demonizing refugees, and one of his first major moves as president was signing an executive order to cut in half the number of refugees allowed to come to the United States. A federal judge later blocked that effort, which was part of Trump’s travel ban, but the administration has defended it as well within Trump’s rights as president. And Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Ted Poe recently introduced legislation that would give governors the power to keep refugees from coming to their states, according to the Washington Examiner.
Nobody who spoke with The Daily Beast questioned the importance of Lloyd’s work with Middle Eastern Christians fleeing ISIS. But they said it wouldn’t necessarily have prepared for his responsibilities at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which works with not-for-profit organizations—many of them faith-based—to help refugees start new lives in the United States. The State Department, not HHS, is responsible for deciding if minority groups face genocide and whether they can come to the U.S. as refugees.
“He may be a wonderful guy,” said Jason Dzubow, an immigration attorney who works with clients seeking asylum and fleeing violence, “but he seems to be someone who’s short on experience in the refugee realm.
“It does seem that maybe ideology or perceived loyalty to a particular set of values is being valued more highly than experience running an agency, or organizational skills, or experience with refugees,” he added.
Lloyd also worked at HHS during the Bush administration, according to the immigration news site This Week in Immigration, which broke the news of his hiring. During his time there, he worked on developing “the conscience rule,” which shielded doctors from having to provide medical services they believed were morally wrong. Lloyd’s writings on abortion and contraception reflect traditional Roman Catholic teachings. Dzubow highlighted a number of those writings in a post for The Asylumist, which covers asylum, detention, and immigrants’ rights issues.
Refugee advocates told The Daily Beast they hope Lloyd will vocally defend the refugee program when Trump’s allies say it’s a secret conduit for terrorists—but they don’t yet know if he will.
Nezer said her group signed on to a letter with other refugee resettlement agencies asking for a meeting with Lloyd, and are waiting to hear back from him.
“To do this job, I think you have to really believe that the US has a very important role to play in offering safety and welcome to people who are persecuted and need our help,” she said. “If you believe that and operate with that kind of perspective, I think you could do a good job. He does not have a record on this so we’ll have to see, and we’re really looking forward to talking to him.”
Dzubow noted that the previous head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Eskinder Negash, spent his career working to help refugees acclimate to life in the United States—including at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants—and came to the U.S. as a refugee from Eritrea.
He said he hopes Lloyd will use his new post to defend refugees.
“You’re kind of the face of the refugee resettlement movement in the U.S., and if that’s the case, to some extent you’ve got to be advocating for the people you’re serving,” he said. “We’re at a time when refugees are being vilified in some quarters and at least treated with suspicion. Is he going to be a person who can speak out when those negative statements are false? Is he a person who will be able to speak out and stand up for refugees?”