Last Thursday, 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.
We fear this could mean that refugee families in our community here in Northwest Arkansas will be torn apart. Sikitu, a refugee from the Congo pictured above with her family, 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 had 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 over 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, nearly 40,000 refugees have already been interviewed by a USCIS officer and have been approved to come to the United States. 8,000 of them are already approved for travel. There are over 100,000 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.
However, despite this latest assault on our organization and the people we serve, Canopy will not retreat from our mission of welcome and our vision to see refugees and our community thriving together. Last spring, we announced the development of Canopy’s Long Welcome Plan: a holistic refugee integration strategy tailored to Northwest Arkansas. Through the creation of new programs and services, we aim to increase our capacity to serve up to 500 refugees and immigrants annually for up to 5 years after arrival, over the next 3-5 years.
We owe it to the 166 refugees we have already resettled to give them the Long Welcome we promised them regardless of whether we receive any new families in the coming year, and we are committed to doing so.
Read about all we have planned in the next year— then join us in this fight.