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Guest opinion: The administration must be stopped from ending the Refugee Resettlement Program

Aden Batar, Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Director, Catholic Community Services, speaks about the current refugee crisis and how it’s impacting refugees in Utah at a press conference at the Refugee Justice League in Murray on Thursday, July 25, 201
Aden Batar, Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Director, Catholic Community Services, speaks about the current refugee crisis and how it’s impacting refugees in Utah at a press conference at the Refugee Justice League in Murray on Thursday, July 25, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

For those of us committed to serving and welcoming refugees, it has been a challenging year. Even as more than 25 million refugees are in need of protection around the world — the highest number in recorded history — U.S. resettlement has plummeted to all-time lows following the administration’s historically low refugee admissions goal for fiscal year 2018 of 45,000 and for fiscal year 2019 of 30,000. As a result, the current administration has dismantled the refugee resettlement program by 75%, and now they are considering zeroing out the program altogether. This cannot happen.

Resettlement is reserved only for the most vulnerable refugees who cannot return to their homes and do not have safety in the places where they have fled. Despite the fact that refugees already face the most rigorous security vetting and medical screening process of any traveler to the United States, the administration has continued to take actions to keep the resettlement numbers dismally low — imposing a series of refugee bans that have separated families, abandoned refugees in unsafe situations, and jeopardized our national security and foreign policy goals.

The complete decimation of the refugee resettlement program would devastate the people of Utah who stand ready with open arms to welcome refugee families.

Catholic Community Services of Utah assists newly arriving refugees by providing the supportive services that help them through their difficult transition. Each year, CCS resettles hundreds of refugees in Salt Lake City and surrounds them with programs that help them become stable, healthy and happy. Our goal is to help those who have never known liberty a chance to achieve the American dream and find self-supporting employment.

For decades, Sudan has been rife with political turmoil and unrest. Even after the successful secession of South Sudan, violence has continued to permeate the region. Ongoing conflicts between the two factions have led to increased civilian casualties, and the threat of child conscription into the military still looms for many youths. To avoid becoming a child soldier, young Tuku fled his homeland of Sudan for Kenya at only 10 years old, leaving behind his parents and siblings.

After five years of caring for himself in refugee camps, Tuku was selected to come to Utah through Catholic Community Services of Utah’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program. Three years later, Tuku has overcome incredible challenges and was able to graduate high school on time. He has begun higher education and was the recipient of the BYU Management Society Scholarship, the Olene Walker Scholarship and the Courageous Award from West Jordan High School. In his essay Tuku stated, “I feel like some students (here) don’t take school quite as seriously as the students in Africa. I think that my perspective is a little bit different because I know what life can be like without an education. And I want a life that is different than the one I grew up having.”

Refugees are contributing to our community and local economy, and our case is not unique. Study after study shows that refugees and immigrants create new businesses and new jobs. Even a study by the current administration found that refugees have made a net contribution of $63 billion to government revenue over the last decade — a report that White House officials tried to suppress.

Welcoming the persecuted is a fundamental American value and the backbone of our nation’s history. This country was founded on the hard work, determination and skills of generations of immigrants from all countries, religions and backgrounds. We must continue to be a beacon of hope.

While the administration effectively cancels the refugee program — hoping that no one is noticing — there is enough support and resources to welcome 95,000 refugees next year.

Congress must hold the administration accountable to keeping its promise to tens of thousands of refugees still waiting to see if they will be resettled this year as well as those who have yet to enter the resettlement process. The destruction of our refugee admissions program would be devastating for them as well as our community and absolutely diminish America’s standing on the global stage.