May 11, 2018

Fewer refugees accepted into U.S. impacts Catholic resettlement programs locally and nationally

By Catholic News Service and John Shaughnessy

War, famine and gang violence have created the largest global refugee population since World War II, yet the United States has drastically cut the numbers of refugees it will accept, causing the reduction and closure of Catholic resettlement programs nationwide.

Nearly 20 U.S. Catholic refugee resettlement programs have closed in the past two years, and dozens of others have scaled back their efforts because there are fewer refugees being admitted into the country, said Richard Hogan, director of resettlement services for Migration and Refugee Services, an arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The impact has been felt by Refugee and Immigrant Services of Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

“While programs have closed across the country that resettled 100 or less refugees, we are thankful that we are still here,” said Heidi Smith, director of refugee services for the archdiocese. “We continue to fulfill our mission of welcoming the stranger, albeit with a much smaller caseload and reduced staff.”

Smith noted that in fiscal year 2016, the United States admitted about 85,000 refugees nationally, with 670 of those refugees being helped in their resettlement by Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

In comparison, the administration of President Donald J. Trump has lowered the national cap of refugees being admitted to 45,000 in fiscal year 2018, Smith said.

“We are projected to receive 220,” she added. “We are unlikely to reach that number, however, as cases are being processed much more slowly.”

It’s important to note that the U.S. is not on track to reach the 45,000-refugee target by the end of September, which had been set by Trump, said Ted Bergh, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio.

While the number of refugees authorized for admission to the U.S. in fiscal year 2018, which began on Oct. 1, 2017, was cut to 45,000, the State Department had admitted only 10,548 in the first six months.

“We hope that more refugees will be arriving soon,” Bergh told Catholic News Service (CNS). “The suffering of refugees waiting to find a home and resume their lives should not be allowed to continue.”

There are currently 66 million forcibly‑displaced people in the world, many of them living in refugee camps, according to Donald Kerwin, director of the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

Many of these refugees often wait several years to either return to their homeland or to be accepted into countries that have agreed to resettle them, Kerwin noted.

The situation that refugees face is devastating, Smith said.

“We are facing the greatest global refugee crisis since World War II, and while political leaders debate policy and process, people are dying,” she said. “The U.S. refugee resettlement program is a lifesaving program that is being gutted at a time when it is most needed.”

The change in policy frustrates and saddens Smith, who noted that “the United States has historically been a global leader in welcoming refugees.”

“Not only has it been good for diplomatic relations, but also for the American economy,” she said. “Historically, both Republicans and Democrats have seen refugee resettlement as a national strength. In fact, the highest number of refugees admitted to the United States was 217,000 in 1980 under President Ronald Reagan.

“The truth is, we can safely and securely admit refugees into the United States. We have been proudly doing this as a nation since 1975. We can balance safety and compassion.”

Administration officials have reasoned that the lower numbers of refugees will allow more extreme vetting to ensure they don’t pose a terrorism threat. They also have maintained that accepting more refugees is too costly and becomes a drain on American resources.

Several officials at Catholic Charities agencies throughout the U.S. told CNS they know of no serious crimes committed by the refugees resettled by their organizations.

Officials also noted that the $1,125 in federal funding they receive for each refugee helps with food and shelter while they are getting settled into the country.

In addition to providing economic relief to refugees, Catholic Charities programs assist them with navigating health and school systems, receiving temporary cash assistance, tutoring for the youth, English as a second language for adults, orientations to help with cultural adjustment and even clinical counseling.

Such assistance is supplemented in the archdiocese by “the outpouring of support” that Catholic Charities Indianapolis has received from the community, Smith said.

“We are thankful for the volunteers of all ages and backgrounds that do everything from organizing our storage units to mentoring families.”

Smith has seen the difference that help has made in the lives of refugees. She has also seen the difference that refugees make to their new country

“For those fortunate to be selected for resettlement in the United States, they are not trying to find a ‘better life,’ they are trying to stay alive,” Smith said. “And it’s an opportunity that they take and run with. They start working immediately and support their families. They enroll their kids in school. They save money for home ownership and start businesses.

“The American dream is alive and well in them. You can find many refugees giving of their extra time and resources to the community—from Syrian refugees organizing food drives for local Hoosiers in need, to Chin refugees donating thousands of dollars to Hoosiers in crisis.”

The refugees who settle in the archdiocese have also been a blessing to the local economy, she said.

“We continue to receive more calls from employers interested in hiring refugees than we can begin to fill,” Smith said. “Many employers across industries are sharing with us that they are having a difficult time finding people to do the jobs. These are jobs ranging from manufacturing to hospitality. Refugees have represented a significant part of this workforce. Thus, employers are negatively impacted by the reduction in numbers as well.”

Smith hopes the Trump administration will change course and admit “no lower than 70,000 refugees in fiscal year 2019—so we can stabilize a program that both saves lives and benefits the economy.”

Such a move would return the United States to its roots as a country, she said.

“Refugees remind us of who we are—that we are a nation of immigrants, that freedom is a gift to be preserved and celebrated, and that we have so much more in common than our differences.

“They also teach us not to take this life for granted.” †

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