Response to UN Ambassador Haley’s Statement on Syrian Refugees

March 2018 marked the 7-year anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War, now one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Altogether, 43.2% of Syria’s 22 million people have unwillingly left home. Percentage wise, this would be as if 1.36 million Iowans were forced to flee the state in less than a decade.

Since the beginning of 2018, only 11 Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter the United States. In 2017, 3,024 Syrian refugees entered the U.S., and in 2016, 15,479. Entrance numbers in 2016 may sound large, but only equate to .3% of the 5.4 million now-stateless Syrians.

 

Recently, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, was asked how the U.S. can justify admitting only 11 Syrian refugees this year. Ambassador Haley responded, “[Syrian refugees] want to go home…Not one of the many I talked to ever said we want to go to America.” Haley’s answer misleads. She implies that the U.S. only admitted 11 refugees this year because these refugees want to return home to Syria.

Understand, no one chooses to be a refugee. No one wants to be a refugee. Given the choice, refugees would return to their home country. But they cannot. To qualify as a refugee, these Syrians must have fled Syria and have a well-founded fear of persecution because of who they are or what they believe. Though Syrians long for their country, they cannot return because they, their spouse, and their children would be killed if they return.

Only about 1% of refugees every year are resettled in a third country like the United States. These individuals apply and, after thorough vetting which can take several years, arrive in a new country to make their home. Many request come to the U.S. because they have relatives or friends already here. They ask to come to the U.S., not because they want to leave their country, but because their country is no longer safe and no hope remains for a solution in the near future. Refugees often feel the tug of home. Many would prefer to return to their country of birth in peace. But peace eludes their country, so they remain here and create a new life for themselves and their children.

Given the bloody Syrian conflict, the United States’ history of welcoming refugees, and our capacity to continue doing so, allowing only 11 refugees in this year is a failure of moral duty. Our leaders cannot claim to care for Syrian children poisoned by chemical weapons, and then refuse to allow Syrian refugee children to enter the United States. We call on our leaders to put pressure on the Department of Homeland Security to continue security screenings of Syrians. We call on our leaders who pressure our President to allow more refugees from Syria. As the bloody civil war in Syria continues, bringing Syrians who fear for their lives to safety in this country is the least we can do.

 

Caleb Gates, Refugee & Immigrant Services Case Manager and Advocacy Specialist

 

Statement on “Anti-Sanctuary City Bill”, SF481

Iowa outline on welcome wallCaleb Gates, Refugee Case Manager & Advocacy Specialist

We here at the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) lament the signing into law of SF481, the so-called “Anti-Sanctuary City Bill”. SF481 mandates that state and local law enforcement honor immigration detainers. An immigration detainer asks local law enforcement to detain a person held in custody for 48 hours to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to come and detain and possibly deport certain individuals. Under the current administration, any undocumented person – even parents of young children who pose no threat to public safety – are now a priority for deportation.

An immigration detainer is not a warrant. It does not require probable cause. Federal courts have ruled the mandating of immigration detainers to be unconstitutional. Immigration detainers can be used against legal residents of the US merely accused, but not convicted, of a criminal or civil offense. As SF481 becomes law, any state and local law enforcement agency here in Iowa, as well as other local entities (possibly including public schools) who refuse to honor ICE detainers will be stripped of all state funding.

The Catherine McAuley Center works daily alongside students, volunteers, and other community members to create an inclusive community. We support the right of every Iowan to feel secure, and commend the work of our state and local law enforcement to keep us safe. Iowa law enforcement universally opposed SF481. Police chiefs and officers around the state rely on trust and cooperation of local communities to serve and protect those same communities. SF481 could erode trust of law enforcement among Iowa’s immigrant communities. This law is likely to degrade, rather than improve, public safety.

SF481 sends a message that Iowa is not a welcoming and inclusive state. At CMC, we welcome those born in this country and those who recently arrived, those whose first language is English, and those for whom English is their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language. We welcome all residents of Iowa no matter how they came to live here. We support families, including immigrant families. No child should fear being separated from their mother or father who poses no threat to our society and only wants to work to support their family. We call on our legislators and government leaders spread love, not fear, toward our fellow Iowans, including our newer residents. We call on native-born Iowans to accept, not reject, Iowa transplants no matter their country of origin. We call on ourselves to welcome, not repudiate the migrant, the refugee, the undocumented, the asylee, the displaced, and the stateless. Despite this legislation, we will fulfill our mission by promoting inclusion and standing in solidarity with every resident of Iowa.

May Update: Refugee Resettlement

Refugee resettlement is up and running at the Catherine McAuley Center! April brought the arrival of two siblings from Iraq and a young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a Burmese family resettled the first week of May. RefugeeRISE Americorps members, Clark Cunningham-White and Leya Neema, share an update on exciting program milestones and the program’s greatest needs moving forward below.


Welcome hug

After executive orders caused a delay in resettlement, Jacques, a young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was reunited with his aunt at the Eastern Iowa Airport in late April.

We announced the resettlement program in January, but the first arrival wasn’t until April. What caused the delay and what have you and other Resettlement staff been working on in the meantime?

Clark: There was a series of executive orders that limited the ability of USCRI, our parent resettlement agency, to resettle. We weren’t sure when the first arrivals would occur.

Leya: Also we never really know exactly when a new case will arrive until the last minute. USCRI sends us assurance forms, we assure (take responsibility for) them, then when all the checkpoints are ready to go they could come at any time.

Clark: While we were waiting, we decided to plan wrap-around services for existing students and refugees in our community. We surveyed current students about what kinds of services they would be interested in that CMC doesn’t currently offer. We also looked at other organizations to see what other kinds of volunteer roles could support students.

Leya: We were also working on employment, a lot of intakes, helping students with applications, going on job shadows.

 

How many refugees have arrived through CMC’s Resettlement Program so far?

Clark: Six people from three families, and we just got travel notifications this morning for a family of fourteen. That’s a lot of fufu (a staple food in parts of western and central Africa)!

 

What has the past month looked like for these newcomers since arriving in the U.S.?

Welcome handshake

CMC volunteers welcome a mother and her two grown daughters from Burma at the Eastern Iowa airport

Leya: They’re doing well. We have been assisting them in applying for social security cards, medical insurance, and temporary benefits and cash assistance. We’ve taken them to their initial health screening and two of them have already been to see their new family doctor.

Clark: We’ve also assured that they have a stable household or stable apartment to make sure that where they’re living is safe and that they understand different amenities within their living space.

Leya: They’re also enrolling in schools—whether it’s an ESL program for adults or K-12 education for the one minor we’ve worked with.

 

How many more refugees are expected to be resettled by CMC this year?

Leya: Originally we had 29 assured before the family of 14. Out of that we’ve resettled six. The rest of those could arrive at any time.

 

What kinds of physical items are needed for a new refugee family, and why do we have a lot of very specific items on our wishlist? What impact do those donations have?

Clark: USCRI provides us a list of required goods we have to make sure that the family receives. Everything from food and cleaning supplies to furniture is needed.

Leya: Some of these are items seem oddly specific to us, but if we’re giving a family canned goods, they’re certainly going to need a can opener, too. They’re things the family won’t really be used to or know to ask for.

Clark: It’s also really important because if we did not get these items from an in-kind donation, that cost would come from the limited funds for the refugee. You’re lessening the financial burden for the refugee as well through these donations. We’re really grateful for all the donors who have supported this program so far.

Leya: (Looking at wish list) We’re really in need of these items. The family of fourteen will be arriving on May 26th, so the bigger items like beds and dressers are needed now and faster than ever.

Clark: We’ll also need car seats for this family. We haven’t worked with children in these first few cases but a lot of baby items are actually needed now.

 

How can someone get involved to support this program?

Leya: Well, for example, for the family of fourteen, there will be two to three apartments that will need to be set up. So apart from donating all of these wonderful items, we’ll also need help setting up the house.

Most adults we are resettling are employable, so having someone volunteer to be a job coach is needed as well. And for anyone who has a business and is willing to hire a refugee, contact us.

Clark: Yes, we can make suggestions about going through the orientation to make it easier for the employer to have refugees as employees.

Leya: We can always work with the employer–

Clark: –to have a mutually beneficial relationship.

May 3 Arrival


A Note from Kristin, Volunteer Coordinator:

There are many ways to support the resettlement program. As Leya said, there is a need to help get refugees moved into their new homes. We are looking for volunteers to help with everything from heavy lifting of furniture to unpacking boxes!  We also have identified the need for a few new and exciting volunteer opportunities which are listed below.

  • Friendship Exchange: Be a friend to a refugee or immigrant family by sharing meals, celebrating holidays together, or helping with answers to questions as they navigate a new culture.
  • Job Coach: Help create resumes, access employment services, and complete online applications.
  • Interpreter: Offer interpretation services to refugee families who are struggling to connect to resources due to a language barrier.
  • Transportation volunteer: Provide a ride to important appointments and meetings for immigrant and refugee families who don’t have transportation.

Each of these new roles will require attending a two hour orientation and completing a volunteer interview.  Our next orientation will be Thursday, May 18th, at 6pm at the main center located at 866 4th Ave SE.  Interested volunteers can register for this orientation by emailing me at kristin@cmc-cr.org.