In a race against time and terror, millions of people around the world, particularly in Latin America, are risking their lives for safety. Nowhere is this more apparent than the southern border of the United States, which has received heavy media coverage in the last few years. As a result of the inhospitable environment that asylum seekers and refugees are facing, there has been a wave of outrage from the global community and a call for help. However, assisting refugees and asylum seekers accepted into the United States is only part of the solution.
The other part lies in the hands of tireless, compassionate people who work at refugee resettlement agencies to support asylum seekers and refugees after their long journey. Yet their importance rarely catches the spotlight that it should. Just as immigration groups in the U.S. have been negatively impacted by the current presidential administration, so have these resettlement agencies. I aim not to deflate the importance of focusing on asylum seekers and refugees at the border but rather to convince you to pay more attention to these resettlement agencies and realize their vital role in the process of supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
Before interning at the Ethiopian Community Development Council, I never took into account the amount of work it took to assist refugees and asylum seekers. Now it seems like it should be obvious, but there really is a ton that needs to happen before refugees and asylum seekers can settle safely and achieve the American Dream.
The ECDC is one of nine resettlement agencies under the Office of Refugee Resettlement that assists immigrants who seek refuge in the U.S. but lack the financial resources and familial and social connections to do so easily. These organizations contain offices throughout the country that provide financial, medical and social services to refugees and asylum seekers under the variety of different programs they have.
The Trump administration has been lowering the number of refugees and asylum seekers allowed in the U.S. since taking office in 2017. Affiliate branches and offices from these resettlement agencies have been closing. As of 2017, Lutheran Immigrant Refugee services (one of the nine resettlement agencies) let go of 100 staffers, followed by the layoffs of 20 at headquarters. Catholic Charities USA, another resettlement agency, closed 22 offices by the end of 2018.
There are three distinct problems with this. The first is the lack of aid available to refugees and asylum seekers. Not everyone arriving has the proper connections and resources to help them become self-sufficient. Even after they’re enrolled, the services given by the resettlement agencies serve as a basis of support and as a network for assistance that everyone — including asylum seekers and refugees — has a fundamental right to.
In addition to the aid they offer, resettlement agencies are also a support system to the community in which they are located in. At the ECDC branch in Arlington, Texas, open spaces were available for events, like quinceaneras, for members of the community who didn’t have enough money to stay at a hotel or other short-term housing. Additionally, they collected clothes, school supplies, computers and other necessary items that would be donated to families in need. It didn’t take long to witness the strong community that developed from ECDC.
One final consideration is the loss of jobs faced by people working at refugee agencies. A 2017 survey found that from the nine resettlement agencies, at least 300 jobs were cut in the months following the announcement of the Executive Order that had banned refugees arriving from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. This is particularly ironic considering Trump campaigned on the idea of keeping jobs in the U.S. It seems that when the job involves helping those that the administration is against, laying off American employees who work strenuous hours to help those less fortunate is not a problem.
Sometimes refugee and asylum seeker assistance is discouraged, with the idea being that we should help ourselves before helping others. This has been something constantly demonstrated throughout history and embedded in policies such as isolationism. In refugee resettlement, the U.S. is also helping itself by providing aid to refugees and asylum seekers. The refugee resettlement agencies provide jobs to U.S. citizens. Then, those employees offer services to refugees and asylum seekers so they too can find jobs and contribute back to the economy. As the border crisis builds and the need for immigration assistance grows, we must stop neglecting one of the many solutions that aid immigrants.
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Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]