So Now What?

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.

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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.

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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.

President Trump's Record-Low Refugee Admissions Number Will All But End the Resettlement Program

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.

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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.

This decision is heartbreaking. We are grieved. We are angry. But above all, we are resolved that our mission is more important now than ever. We’re grateful to get to carry it out with you.

URGENT: President Trump is considering ending refugee resettlement

We’ve learned that President Trump is seriously considering shutting down the refugee resettlement program in Fiscal Year 2020 (beginning October 1, 2019). We need you, our community, to help us raise a strong and forceful response in opposition to this.

By law, the president is authorized by Congress to determine the appropriate number of refugees to be resettled annually, and theoretically, that number could be zero-- although no president has ever even considered such a possibility. The refugee admissions number has ranged from 230,000 under President Reagan to 70,000 under the Bush and Obama administrations. Currently, President Trump has set the ceiling at 30,000 for this year—a devastatingly low number already. It appears however, that President Trump is actively and seriously considering a refugee admissions ceiling of zero for next year.

This would effectively shutter the refugee resettlement program.

Such an outcome would be disastrous for the tens of thousands of refugees who have already been told they would be resettled in the US, the millions more who are waiting in camps with no possibility of returning home and our allies and global partners who are currently hosting them. It would also be devastating for our organization and other organizations like ours across the country whose work centers around the work of refugee resettlement.

There are more refugees in the world today than at any other point in history—over 25 million. The majority of these will eventually be able to return to their home countries with the help of the United Nations. A small number of those who fled to wealthier, more stable countries will be given the opportunity to remain in those countries permanently. But hundreds of thousands do not and will not ever have either of those options. They must either be resettled to a third country like the United States or die in a refugee camp. Over half are vulnerable women and children. Many are victims of torture. Some have serious and life-threatening illnesses that cannot be treated in the camps. All will lose their chance at a new life if the US shutters its resettlement program.

This possibility is catastrophic, but there is still a chance to stop it if we act now.

We need to let the Trump administration know that Americans from every corner of the country and every political and religious background believe in the importance of refugee resettlement and are ready to fight for it. All across the country, organizations just like ours are mobilizing and we need YOU to make sure Arkansas’ voice is loud in this outcry. You can do that in three ways:

              1. Sign and share this petition. We’re working on setting up meetings with our elected officials next week to ask them to advocate to President Trump and the State Department on our behalf. We need as many signatures as possible from Arkansans to show them just how much this matters to their constituents.

              2. Call our elected officials yourselves. Ask them to write a letter or put in a phone call to the White House or the State Department voicing their opposition to this proposal. We’re especially focusing on Senator Boozman (202-224-4843) and Governor Hutchinson (501-682-2345) since they have assured us that they believe in the importance of refugee resettlement in the past.

              3. Set up a meeting with our members of Congress when they’re home next month for the August recess. Let’s fill up their calendars with meeting after meeting on this issue! To do that, contact their district offices as follows: Congressman Womack (479-464-0446), Senator Boozman (479- 725-0400) and Senator Cotton (479-751-0879).

A refugee admissions number of zero would be catastrophic for Canopy and the refugees we care about. It would mean that families whose names we already know-- families who have already been told they should get ready to travel—would be sentenced to remain in refugee camps for years to come. But we can still stop it. Take action today!

World Refugee Day Recap And Some Good News!

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On World Refugee Day we took 72,927 steps for refugees.

Walking 1 mile alone doesn't seem like much. In fact it's only about 2,701 steps, but when we work together and combine our steps, we can cover a lot more ground! 

And we did, thanks to a group of 27 community members and Canopy staff who participated in UNHCR's #stepwithrefugees on World Refugee Day. 

We also delivered some gift baskets filled with all kinds of goodies to our recently arrived refugee families to honor and welcome them. 

If you think about it, the #stepwithrefugees walk is a beautiful picture of our community's story. Alone and in our respective spaces, we couldn't accomplish much when it came to helping refugees. But when a group of Northwest Arkansans got together at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church 3 years ago, the unifying piece being a deep concern to do something about the refugee crisis, we ended up starting a refugee resettlement site!

To date, we've welcomed 153 people! That's amazing ya'll!

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And now for some good news…

We've just recently had 5 new cases assigned to us! This is really exciting, and means families are moving out of dangerous and unsustainable situations and will begin rebuilding their lives right here in Northwest Arkansas. What this also means is that each of these families needs a group of Arkansans to help them adjust to life here in the Ozarks.

Quite simply, we need co-sponsor groups or mentor teams.

These typically look like communities of faith or groups of friends. If you're interested, have questions, or are ready to say "I'm in!", email lauren.snodgrass@canopynwa.org. You can also read more about co-sponsorship below. These are exciting times, friends. Join us!

Why we need a Long Welcome

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Meet Zawadi.

She’s brilliant and brave. She arrived here in Northwest Arkansas 30 days ago, a single mom of 8, and she instantly stole our hearts. She radiates positivity, she’s fearless—and did we mention she’s incredibly smart? She’s soaked up English like a sponge and is already able to carry on basic conversations. She’s mastered our complicated public transportation system. She’s breezing through Job Club like it’s no big deal—even though she’s never had a formal job before. Before we know it, she’ll be able to get to and from the grocery store on her own, she’ll be dropping her kids off at daycare and then going to work, paying her own bills, and building a new life for herself and her family. She’s on track to get there by 90 days—which is good, because that’s how much time we have with her.

But what happens after that? There is so much more to life than being able to buy groceries, take your kids to and from daycare and go to work. How does Zawadi make those long-lasting friendships that sustain the rest of us? What does she do when one of her kids tells her he wants to go to college? How about when their family is ready to buy a car? There is so much more to life than what we can teach and give Zawadi in 90 days.  

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Then there’s Asim.

He’s young, ambitious and diligent. He has a high school diploma from his home country of Afghanistan, and he knows the sky is the limit for him here in America. His 90th day was this week. In the last three months, he too has wowed us with how fast he’s picked up English and how quickly he’s learned to navigate our community. He recently started working at Walmart as an overnight stocker so that he can continue to go to English class during the day while still helping to provide for his family. Somehow in the midst of all that, he managed to get his driver’s license two weeks ago. He’s checked all the boxes for where he and his family should be by 90 days and then some. He’s employed, self-sufficient, able to meet his basic needs on his own.

But that’s not enough for Asim. He didn’t come to America to stock shelves at Walmart. He has bold ambitions of going to mechanic school, getting his mechanic’s license and maybe running his own business one day. His dad wants to start a farm here. His younger siblings want to go to college. He’s hungry to make friends, to have a full social life again like he did before he had to flee his country. But at day 92, all those dreams are still so very far away.

Our vision is for refugees and our community to model thriving together.

That’s what we want for Zawadi and for Asim. We want them to thrive. And if that is truly our goal, then our work is really only just beginning. Resettlement is just the first step; it’s the Long Welcome that comes after where true, lasting change happens.

Over the last 5 months, we’ve been asking our refugee clients to help us define and map out what Long Welcome means for them. We asked them to tell us what it means for them to “thrive” here—and what obstacles currently stand in their way. We got the chance to hear from men, women and youth, from Congolese, Ukrainians, Iraqis and Cameroonians.

Now, we’ve taken what they taught us and we’ve run it past our co-sponsors, volunteers and community partners for their perspective, we’ve compared it to the latest research findings in the field of refugee and immigrant integration and we’ve worked with consultants to help us distill all our findings into a clear, coherent blueprint: our Long Welcome Plan.

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And friends… the time has finally come to share it with y’all.

We’re so excited. Mark your calendars for April 30th—the last day of our spring Community of Welcome fundraiser. We figured: what better way to wrap up this incredible month of community building than to unveil our exciting, bold Long Welcome Plan with our community? It’s ambitious, it’s challenging, and we’ll admit, it’s a little bit intimidating. But we know that in collaboration with you all, our Community of Welcome, we can make it happen.

So check back here April 30th for our most exciting update yet!

Or… if you can’t wait that long, sign up to join our Community of Welcome. In addition to all kinds of other perks, we’ll be giving our Community of Welcome members an exclusive sneak peak of this exciting new plan a full week earlier than everyone else. If you love the work we do, you believe in the idea of Long Welcome and you like being the first to know things, then help us reach our goal of 140 Community of Welcome members this month and sign up today.

 

   

 

The Receiving End of Welcome

A note from our director

Last Saturday was one of the most special, remarkable days of my life.

I left my house to go to what I was told was going to be a university function—and ended up walking into a crowd of singing, cheering Congolese, Kenyan and Rwandan women, who smothered me with hugs and kisses. They had been up before the sun, cooking up a feast and decorating a church sanctuary to honor me and my unborn daughter. (Yes, in case you missed my not-so-subtle bump in our live videos last week, I am nearly 8 months pregnant).


It’s a hard experience to put into words… I felt so cherished, so supported, so… well, welcomed.

As I prepare to embark on the journey of motherhood, I feel all the feelings you might expect. I feel excited, but anxious—downright scared at times. My mind is a constant buzz of questions. I don’t know this new road I’m traveling down and the place it’s leading me will be utterly foreign. Am I prepared? Will I be OK? Will there be anyone to help me when I arrive?

Last Saturday was my airport pickup. I stepped through those doors, vulnerable and unsure, and into the arms of a community of welcome. They celebrated my arrival with shouts and ululations and singing. They held me as I cried. They spoke words of strength and encouragement to me. They welcomed me in.

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Friends, a Community of Welcome is a powerful thing. It has the power to move someone from vulnerability to security, from aloneness to family. It is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Each of those women on their own could have visited me to wish me well and bring me food and that would have certainly encouraged me. But by coming together and surrounding me, they gave me something to belong to. And that changed everything for me.

That’s what we have the power to do together. Each of us on our own can be welcoming and generous and kind. But collectively, we can be a Community for our newcomers. We can be a circle of safety and support and kinship. That is what we are seeking to create here in Northwest Arkansas. That is what a Community of Welcome means to us.

As we get ready to take on the challenge of building a Long Welcome for refugees in Northwest Arkansas, a strong, unified Canopy Community is more crucial than ever. We’d love for you to be a part of it in whatever way is right for you (check out all the options on our Get Involved page. There are more now than ever!).

But this month in particular, we are inviting you to consider joining our Community of Welcome program, our innermost group of supporters. As a Community of Welcome member, you commit to supporting us financially every month, and we bring you in to our innermost circle. You’re the first to know the ups and downs of our work, you’re right there with us at our intimate gatherings and you get first access to our events and celebrations. Put another way, our Community of Welcome is the circle of women shouting, singing and hugging newcomers as they walk through the door.

If that sounds like you, consider joining today.  We’d love to have you.