Local News, National, News, Politics, Providence

First blocked by Trump’s travel ban, refugees make it to Rhode Island

[anvplayer video=”1250363″] PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For the past 25 years, three brothers from Somalia have lived in a Kenyan refugee camp, hoping to be resettled after escaping their home country as children. The Salat brothers applied for refugee status with the United Nations in 2001.

On Tuesday night, 16 years after they began the process, they arrived in Rhode Island – but their journey wasn’t without hiccups.

Last month, after years of waiting, repeated background checks, in-person interviews and medical clearance, the brothers found out they had been approved to settle in the nation’s smallest state.

But their joy was short-lived; the new U.S. president had signed a travel ban three days prior, on Jan. 27, that blocked travel to the U.S. by people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia. The ban also temporarily halted the country’s refugee program. The brothers were not allowed to come to Rhode Island.

“It basically disrupted the arrival schedule for a number of refugees that were destined to come to Rhode Island,” explained Baha Sadr, the director of refugee resettlement at Dorcas International Institute in Providence. “Their situation was up in the air because they were from Somalia.”

The Salat brothers were briefly stuck in limbo, and featured as part of a New York Times article about refugees who just missed their chance to come to the U.S. because of the travel ban. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where they had lived for 25 years was threatening to close.

But on Feb. 3, a federal judge in Seattle put a temporary restraining order on Trump’s executive order. A federal appeals court upheld the restraining order last week. The Salat brothers made it to Rhode Island Tuesday night, and will be starting a new life in Providence.

A family reunited

When Sylvie Vambili was pregnant with her son in Ethiopia in 2015, she and her husband Claude Buana Tchiiza found out they’d been approved for refugee resettlement in the United States. She was about to give birth, so her husband, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, traveled on without her just days after baby Dombeni was born. She stayed behind, and registered the new baby for refugee status, waiting for their turn.

Sylvie Vambili and her son Dombeni are reunited with husband and father Claude Buana Tzchiiza.
Sylvie Vambili and her son Dombeni are reunited with husband and father Claude Buana Tzchiiza.

On Tuesday, the mother and one-year-old got off a van at the T.F. Green arrivals gate and greeted her husband, who exclaimed “[the baby] can’t recognize me!” with a big grin on his face.

“When America came to us and said we can help you, we can give you a second chance at life, we said, ‘Wow? That is possible, really?'” Buana Tchiiza said. “Now we are in America, and I say, ‘Thank you, God.'”

President Donald Trump has said he plans to fight in court to re-institute his executive order, which he said is temporary and meant to be in place until “extreme vetting” can be achieved.

Baha Sadr says refugees already go through “rigorous” vetting before they are approved for resettlement, often getting re-vetted as their clearance repeatedly expires while they wait for a spot in the U.S. Less than half of one percent of applicants make it to America, Sadr said.

“Refugees, they are running away from terror. They are running away from lawlessness. So they love to come to a country where there is law and order,” he said. His organization along with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence help resettle hundreds of refugees in Rhode Island each year.

Sadr says a family of six from Iraq along with another Somalian family have also come to Rhode Island since the travel ban was temporarily halted. More are slated to come, but there’s a chance the ban could return.

“The ban … that is a crime against humanity,” Buana Tchiiza said. “People are suffering, they are dying. They don’t have hope.”

Buana Tchiiza, an engineer, left T.F. Green with his wife and son with a smile and a wave. He called out: “Thank you, America!”

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Local News, National, News, Politics, Providence

Rhode Island congressional delegation will attend Trump’s inauguration

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The four Democrats who represent Rhode Island in Washington, D.C. say they will be attending President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, choosing not to join a growing number of House Democrats boycotting the event.

Congressman John Lewis, D-Georgia organized the boycott, and more than 20 other House colleagues have signed on to stay home on Friday. In an interview on Meet the Press over the weekend, Lewis said he didn’t see Trump as a “legitimate president.”

“It’s my plan to attend the inaugration,” Congressman David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Sunday. “And not because in any way I support the new President,” he added.

Cicilline said he plans to continue to fight against President-elect Trump, and said he’ll attend his swearing-in as the 45th president in order to show that he will be holding him accountable.

“I choose to be there because I want him to know I’m in this fight, and I’m not going to not be present for one second and sort of give him an open field,” Cicilline said.

Congressman Jim Langevin, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Senator Jack Reed, all Democrats, also said they would attend.

“It’s a rite of the American Democracy,” Sen. Reed said in an interview, giving a more traditional reason for attending the ceremony.

He said he finds it interesting that even Trump’s election rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, plans to attend the inauguration with former President Bill Clinton.

“Because it represents more than just the individual,” Reed said. “It’s the constitution and the country.”

President-elect Trump blasted Congressman Lewis on Twitter for organizing the boycott, writing that Lewis “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.”

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Health, Local News, News, Politics, Top Video

HealthSource RI director: We’ll work with feds if Obamacare is repealed

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — President-elect Donald Trump has made clear his plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

“Obamacare is a complete and total disaster,” Trump said Wednesday during his first news conference since being elected. He decried high premiums and deductibles, but did not offer details on his replacement plan to lower those costs.

Since many of the state-run exchanges such as HealthSource RI depend on federal subsidies, local officials are waiting on Trump and Congress to put out a plan so they can see how Rhode Island will be affected.

Millions of Americans get health insurance through Obamacare. In Rhode Island, 30,000 residents are enrolled in commercial insurance through HealthSource RI, and another 70,000 are covered by Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

“In the event of changes that come down from the federal level, we look forward to working with the feds around maintaining levels of coverage,” said HealthSource RI Director Zachary Sherman.

Sherman said the number of uninsured Rhode Islanders has gone down from 12 percent to 4.5 percent under HealthSource RI, and more people have access to primary care.

“I don’t want to see us go backwards on that,” he said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “I want to make sure folks get the care they need when they want it.”

It’s unclear at this point what will happen to state-run health care exchanges under Trump’s plan, so Sherman said his focus is to continue open enrollment for HealthSource RI.

The president-elect said he doesn’t want there to be a delay in between repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a new program.

“[It] will most likely be on the same day or the same week,” said Trump. “But probably the same day…could be the same hour.”

Obamacare is still in effect for the time being, so if you’re in need of insurance, you have until the end of January to enroll in HealthSource RI. Click here to learn more »

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Local News, News, Politics, Top Video

‘It’s a great thing for RI,’ Whitehouse says of Flynn appointment

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — President-elect Donald Trump has appointed retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, making him the second Rhode Island native to hold the position of the last three.

The U.S. Senate will need to confirm some of Trump’s picks for his administration, but not Flynn. U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse praised the Middletown native as a military man.

“It’s a great thing for Rhode Island to have this tradition of service reflected in this way,” said Whitehouse.

“He’s a great, professional soldier,” added Reed. “We traveled extensively together in Afghanistan. We never spoke about politics, we always talked about the troops.”

Now, Flynn will be on the policy side of things. It will be a big transition, according to Reed.

“I wish him well,” he said. “But these are a whole new sets of skills that he has to master and demonstrate.”

The senators also spoke of their colleague, Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been tapped as attorney general. The Senate will have to confirm him, and both Reed and Whitehouse said they’re taking a wait-and-see approach.

“He’s been hotly opposed to any progress on immigration reform, and I think that’s an important issue for us to address,” Whitehouse explained. “So I think I’ll wait to let that one play out a little bit more.”

“I think those hearings are going to be very, very revealing,” said Reed.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is taking a harder line on Sen. Sessions, calling on President-elect Trump to reverse his decision and urging the Senate not to confirm him, saying “there can be no compromise with racism.”

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Local News, News, Politics, Providence, Your Local Election Headquarters

Rhode Island native Lt. Gen. Flynn considers future in Trump administration

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PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — A Rhode Island native who has risen to national prominence as an adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign says he would consider a position in the president-elect’s cabinet if offered, though he says it’s not his main priority.

“There’s a lot of things to do and a lot of different ways to serve,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Wednesday. “I didn’t come into this thing to get a job.”

Flynn said he had just left Trump Tower before speaking to Eyewitness News, after a whirlwind day of interviews and discussions with staffers following Trump’s stunning victory over Hillary Clinton, which was declared early Wednesday morning.

“I know the challenges that he is going to face,” Flynn said, adding that his main goal was to get Trump elected. “If I can help, I will be willing to help.” Flynn did not go as far as to say he’d be interested in the job of defense secretary, for which he is widely considered a contender, but he said he would consider any job offer made to him by Trump.

“I’d have to give it some thought,” he said. “It would have to be a conversation that we’d have to have for the right reasons.”

Another possibility for Flynn could be serving as Trump’s national security adviser, the title he held in the campaign. Flynn said he is meeting with Trump Thursday morning before the president-elect heads to Washington, D.C, to meet with President Obama.

Michael Flynn was born in Fort Meade, Maryland, and grew up in Middletown, where he attended St. Mary’s School in Newport, Middletown Middle School and Middletown High School before attending the University of Rhode Island. While he is currently based in Washington, he still owns a home in Middletown, and visits the Ocean State frequently.

Flynn may have helped elect a Republican nominee to the presidency, but he says he still considers himself a Democrat. He was the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama, but left in 2014.

“I was let go about a year earlier than normal, because of basically a falling out with the administration over my position on the rise of radical Islam,” Flynn said. He said he staunchly opposes both the Clinton and Bush camps, and when he met Trump in 2015, he was attracted to his “leadership and his love of his country.”

He currently runs a business called Flynn Intelligence Group, Inc., which he said tackles cybersecurity, has an aviation arm, and does strategic advising for companies and countries.

Over the summer, Flynn gained national attention after he delivered a fiery speech aimed at Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention.

“She put our nation’s security at extremely high risk with her careless use of a private email server,” he said in the speech at the time.

While his role in the future Trump administration remains unknown, Flynn was confident about what he thinks needs to be done.

“We need to strengthen our military quite a bit,” Flynn said. “That’s going to be one of the priorities of a Trump administration.”

Local News, News, Politics, Providence

Local leaders sound off on tense second presidential debate

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As some Republicans across the country either withdraw support for or revoke endorsements of Donald Trump following a release of a vulgar video on Friday and subsequent debate on Sunday, Rhode Island’s GOP Chairman Brandon Bell says he remains in support of the Republican nominee.

“I will likely cast my vote for the Trump-Pence ticket,” he said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “I’m surely not voting for [Hillary Clinton]. I promise you that,” he said.

Sunday’s debate followed a rough two days for the Trump campaign, after The Washington Post released a video that showed the candidate making lewd comments about grabbing women’s genitalia. The comments were captured on a live microphone during a 2005 taping of “Access Hollywood.”

“It was locker room talk,” Trump said at the debate. “I’m not proud of it.” At the town-hall-style forum, he hounded Hillary Clinton on her private email server, promising to hire a special prosecutor to investigate her if he is elected, despite the FBI already determining there was not enough evidence to bring charges. Trump also said Clinton “would be in jail” if he were in charge.

“I’m glad my kids were in bed and couldn’t see that debate,” Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday. “It was a disgrace.”

Bell said Trump performed well in the debate, in part because of those attacks on Clinton’s emails.

“I think you have to point out her inadequacies,” Bell said. “And there are so many, because she continues to move her lips and lie to the American people.”

Raimondo also commented on the Facebook Live panel Trump convened 90 minutes before the debate, in which three women who have accused Bill Clinton of either rape or unwanted sexual advances expressed their support for Trump.

“He was trying to do everything he could to avoid talking about the real issues,” Raimondo said. “To just come up with distraction after distraction to avoid talking about the economy, income inequality, his plans for America.”

Bell said the stunt probably didn’t do anything for the Republican candidate. “I’m not sure what the purpose was,” he said. “Probably to throw Hillary Clinton off of her game … I’m not sure it was the right place for it.”

Bell was quick to denounce Trump’s words in the 2005 video, calling them “disgusting,” but said he would continue to support the ticket in part because of Mike Pence, with whom he spent time in Rhode Island on Saturday night.

In a conference call with Republican National Committee members Monday evening, Bell said chairman Reince Priebus assured members that Trump and Pence were both committed to the ticket, and said rumors that either candidate would drop out were unfounded.

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