A note from the CEO:
This World Refugee Day, Texans Deserve to Know: Where Are All the Refugees?
In June, the American Dream will be on full display at dozens of World Refugee Day events happening across the country. Some of the nation’s biggest celebrations have occurred – and will happen – in Texas.
For years, World Refugee Day has proven to be a massive success, especially in Texas. On Saturday, June 22nd, native and refugee families alike will come together to celebrate cultures, stories, and experiences. They may have taken different paths, but all have found their place of refuge in the great Lone Star State.
My first day at Refugee Services of Texas was at last year’s World Refugee Day celebration. In addition to meeting people from all over the world and sampling food from many cultures, I had the distinct honor of witnessing 14 individuals from 10 countries become U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony.
This year’s celebration, however, will be tinged with sadness, as we must ask the obvious question: Where are all the refugees?
Neighbors in our communities are wondering why the steady flow of friendly, hardworking refugees from all over the globe has slowed to a trickle. Refugees themselves, whose families have been severed by war and persecution, face the stark reality that due to the intentional bureaucratic slowdown of the resettlement program, they may never see their wives, husbands, or parents ever again.
From 2017 to 2019, the current administration cut the refugee resettlement ceiling from 110,000 to a record low of 30,000. At the current pace, the U.S. will not reach even this drastically reduced ceiling for the second year in a row.
This dramatic reduction in refugee admissions to the United States couldn’t come at a worse time. The global number of forcibly displaced people due to violence, poverty, and persecution is at an all-time high, but the current administration has responded by admitting the fewest number of refugees since the program began.
Texas has always been a proud destination for refugees from all over the world and has resettled more refugees than any other state. Now, Texans are looking for newcomers to welcome but are left asking the same thing. Where are all the refugees?
Historically, the United States would be the first to step in and help, but instead, our nation’s new closed-door policy to the world’s most vulnerable people marks an unprecedented rise in fear of the other.
Fear of refugees is misplaced. A refugee flees their home country and cannot return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Refugees are always the victims of violence, never the perpetrators.
The United States uses the most stringent inter-agency vetting system on earth. Refugees do not apply for resettlement themselves. The United Nations identifies vulnerable individuals and families to be considered, including women and girls at risk; and survivors of violence and torture. The screening process includes eight U.S. government agencies, five separate security database checks, six background checks, and three in-person interviews.
Once refugees arrive, they prove to be some of the best neighbors in the community, and their impact on the economy is extremely positive.
Refugees rapidly learn English to communicate with their neighbors and coworkers, they are employed at similar or higher rates than native-born Texans, and they end up paying more in taxes than they will ever receive in social services. Refugees are also job creators, with 13% of refugees becoming entrepreneurs compared to 11.5% of non-refugee immigrants and just 9% of the native-born population.
Despite these amazing facts about refugees, the refugee resettlement program in the U.S. is being systematically and comprehensively dismantled, making the path to peace and safety for the world’s most vulnerable people exponentially more difficult.
This year, we are asking all Texans to join with us in celebrating the many contributions of refugees to our economy and social fabric by preserving and expanding refugee resettlement in the United States. You can find your nearest World Refugee Day celebration online: https://www.weareallusa.org/events
And, we’re asking Texans to call their Congressional representatives and urge them to welcome refugees. The Capitol switchboard is 866-961-4293. Please call 3 times to be connected to Senators Cornyn and Cruz, and to your local Representative.
By helping refugees rebuild their lives, we fulfill a uniquely American calling to welcome vulnerable people to our shores to live securely and participate in realizing their own American dreams.
Russell A. Smith, LMSW, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas.