Yesterday afternoon, President Trump proposed a record low refugee admissions number of 18,000, crippling the refugee resettlement program and throwing the lives of tens of thousands of refugees into jeopardy. For decades, the US has admitted an average of 85,000 of the world’s most vulnerable refugees per year, leading the world in this vital humanitarian endeavor. Since taking office, President Trump has consistently cut the refugee admissions number each year, causing the backlog of refugees awaiting resettlement to balloon and dozens of refugee resettlement agencies across the country to close their doors.
This latest refugee admissions ceiling is so devastatingly low that it is tantamount to ending the resettlement program altogether. In order to successfully resettle refugees across the country, the US government relies on a network of established, trusted agencies such as Canopy, working in tandem with their communities. 18,000 refugees is not enough to sustain this network; dozens more organizations will have to close. This means that when the time comes for refugee resettlement to increase again, there may not be the infrastructure in place to allow that to happen.
But more immediately, this means that refugee families in our community here in Northwest Arkansas are being torn apart. Sikitu, pictured above, was excited to welcome her mother and siblings to the region September 5, but their travel was postponed because they were waiting on an exit visa to be issued by the Tanzanian government. We told Sikitu not to worry, that it would only be a minor delay. Now, we have to tell her it could well be years before she will be reunited with her family. The chances that her family would be among the 18,000 selected to travel this year are impossibly small.
Likewise, Mr. Bi, a refugee from Burma, was told his parents would be traveling September 2, after ten years apart. Shortly before they were due to depart, their travel was postponed to October. Now, there is no telling when they might arrive.
Including these two families, Canopy has 70 refugees waiting to travel to Northwest Arkansas whose futures are now on hold as a result of this decision on the part of the president. Nearly half of these are children. Nationally, over 30,000 refugees have already been fully vetted and approved and are waiting to travel. There are tens of thousands more who have been referred to the US resettlement program and have begun the vetting process. All of them are now in jeopardy as the system designed to carry them to safety has been, for all intents and purposes, shut down.
Friends, this should not be. We have a proud history of providing refuge to our world’s most vulnerable and they in turn have built this country up and made it great. This announcement betrays that history and endangers our future.
Please join with us in raising our voices against this decision, for the sake of Sikitu and Bi and their families that are facing ongoing separation, for the sake of the 34 refugee children who will continue to languish in camps when they should be in school here in Arkansas, and for the sake of our community whose employers will miss out on good workers, whose churches will miss out on faithful members and whose neighborhoods will be less colorful and vibrant as a result.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Call Congressman Womack (479-464-0446), Governor Hutchinson (501-682-2345), Senator Boozman (479-725-0400) and Senator Cotton (479-751-0879) and tell them about the refugee families right here in our community that will be torn apart by this decision. Congress still has the chance to weigh in on this proposed ceiling before it becomes official. Ask them to speak up for their refugee constituents!
2. Sign up to volunteer with us and show the refugee families already present in our community that we here in Northwest Arkansas love and welcome refugees.
3. Give to support our work. We don’t know just yet how this decision will affect us here at Canopy, but it will almost certainly mean significant cuts in federal funds. We are committed to continuing to provide a Long Welcome for the 160+ refugees we have already resettled and to remain in position to welcome more in the future—but we are going to need your support to do that.