Governor Robert D. Ray – Hero to Refugees, Compassionate Humanitarian, Moral Leader

By Caleb S. Gates, Refugee Case Manager & Advocacy Specialist

Legacy. I reflected on that word as I returned to Iowa from a visit out of state with my 100-year old grandmother. I arrived home in Iowa to learn that former Iowa governor Robert D. Ray had died.  I’ve wanted to meet Governor Ray in person over the past few years and regret I never met him. I admire Governor Ray for numerous reasons, but especially for his work and advocacy for Southeast Asian refugees.

The state of Iowa has a history of welcoming refugees because of Governor Ray. Back in 1975, Governor Ray and 29 other governors received letters from the Tai Dam people requesting they be resettled together in the US as refugees. The Tai Dam, a minority ethnic group from Northwest Vietnam, fled for their lives four separate times. Governor Ray alone answered this request and worked to bring hundreds of Tai Dam to Iowa, making the state of Iowa became the only US state to directly sponsor refugees.

In 1979, Governor Ray offered to resettle 1500 Vietnamese “Boat People” in Iowa. Later the same year, Governor Ray visited refugee camps in Northern Cambodia where he saw children die from malnourishment and disease. To help, Governor Ray formed the Iowa SHARES program to provide food and medical aid to these people.

Furthermore, Governor Ray advocated for the Refugee Act of 1980 which established our current national framework for resettling refugees. Ray’s influence moved fellow Republican legislators to support the Refugee Act. The 1980 Refugee Act may not be law today if not for Governor Ray’s support. I thank Governor Ray for his compassion and leadership to bring refugees to Iowa. I am happy to work in the shadow left by the late Governor as work with refugees continues here in Iowa.

Governor Ray’s work teaches me. I must learn from my mistakes. Governor Ray made some mistakes when Iowa began resettling refugees in 1975. Governor Ray and those initially involved in refugee resettlement made errors in judgement by elevating the Tai Dam over other refugee ethnic groups. Colleen Shearer, the Iowa Job Services director whom Governor Ray put in charge of resettling refugees, accused ethnic Vietnamese refugees of committing welfare fraud. Governor Ray backed her. The state refugee program also came into conflict other volunteer agencies working with refugees. But Governor Ray and those helping refugees learned from their mistakes and made changes to those programs. They repaired frayed relationships among agencies all seeking to help refugees.

Governor Ray teaches me to do the right thing in spite of fear of making mistakes and even with suspect motives. Governor Ray chose to bring refugees to Iowa when a majority of Iowans disapproved. Governor Ray had compassion for refugees, but also set up a state agency to resettle refugees to maintain control of the program. Governor Ray so opposed welfare, that some refugees were sanctioned or denied services for going on state cash assistance. I do not admire all of these motives, but I applaud Governor Ray’s actions.  On May 29, 1979 at a Congressional hearing, Governor Ray explained his decision to bring more refugees to Iowa. “I saw that we really only had two choices: we could either turn our backs as countless others suffered and died, or we could extend a hand to help, and in so doing prevent tragic loss of innocent lives. Actually, I saw only one real choice. I wrote President Carter January 17, informing him that Iowa would resettle an additional 1500 refugees during this year.

Governor Ray’s memory strengthens my resolve to better help refugees here in Iowa. When confronted by needs of others less fortunate than ourselves – whether here in Iowa or around the world – may we, like Governor Ray – be compelled to help.


To learn more about Governor Ray’s work with refugees, please read Matthew Walsh’s book The Good Governor: Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa and a tribute to Governor Ray by Kenneth M. Quinn, World Food Prize President, former Ray staffer, and key player in the original resettlement of refugees in Iowa.

You can honor the memory of Governor Ray by working for or donating to the causes Governor Ray cared about.

Making Sense of Border Policy

Family outside detention facility

A family outside the GEO Group-run Northwest Detention Center in Washington State. Photo by Seattle Globalist/Flickr

“I don’t understand the news about what’s happening at the border.”

“I am saddened and sickened by all of this.”

“I am ready to help!”

Abundant thanks to the many community members who have reached out to the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) over the last week out of concern for our neighbors affected by the current border policy.

At CMC, we believe in the dignity of every individual and that our future depends on inclusive communities that welcome, respect, and support a diversity of individuals and ideas. Like our partners at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), we stand for a border policy that protects children and respects the rights of persons seeking asylum.

Who are asylum seekers?

So are the asylum seekers in the news the same people CMC is serving? We know a lot of Eastern Iowans are asking this as they eagerly look for ways to be part of the solution.

To answer that question, it’s necessary to understand the difference between immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers first. This video explains it well:

Put simply:

  • Immigrants have moved to another country by choice, often for economic reasons.
  • Refugees have fled persecution in their home country and apply for refugee status overseas. They complete a rigorous vetting process before arriving in the U.S., where a resettlement agency like CMC provides comprehensive support for their first 90 days here.
  • Asylum seekers are also fleeing persecution in their home country, but arrive in the U.S. or at the border before applying for protection. International law grants them the right to apply for asylum in another country.
  • A series of short videos from UNHCR further describes the journeys of these migrant groups as they make their way to their new homes.
Welcoming refugees

CMC volunteers welcome a member of a refugee family at the airport

CMC encounters people from each of these groups through our Adult Basic Education, Resource Navigation, and Employment Support services, all of whom are coming to CMC for opportunities to build skills, find stability, and make meaningful connections with the community. Only people with refugee status (those who applied for protection while overseas) are eligible for CMC’s resettlement program, which is conducted according to strict specifications from the U.S. State Department.

Though the people seeking Catherine McAuley Center services may not be the exact faces you see on the news coverage of the detention facilities along the border, many of the people we serve also came to the United States in search of safety or greater opportunities for their families. Each gesture of welcome toward them is creating an inclusive, engaged community that will continue to advocate for our neighbors at home and abroad.

Supporting a welcoming community

To support a welcoming community here in Eastern Iowa, you can:

Volunteer
Become a tutor for one of the 100+ adult learners on our waiting list or share your time and skills with CMC in another way.

Give
We appreciate donations of any of the items on our wishlist that stock our food and hygiene pantry or are used to set up a newly-arrived refugee family’s home. You can even host a food or supply drive with your place of worship, employer, or other social group!

We also rely on donations from individuals to support our mission of offering hope and opportunity to our neighbors. Monetary gifts allow us to continue pursuing new opportunities to better serve our neighbors!

Spread the word
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates, and let your friends know how they can get involved! And as you learn more about the issues you care about like border policy, consider sharing your concerns with your federal elected officials.

Thanks for working together with us for an inclusive community!

World Refugee Day 2018- Reflection

By Caleb S. Gates, Case Manager & Advocacy Specialist

Burundian drummers performing on Iowa City’s Pentacrest in honor of World Refugee Day.

Home. A place to call your own. Our sense of place in this world greatly defines our identity. When we meet a new person, we quickly ask “Where are you from?” Our place of birth, our childhood home, our old stomping grounds leave an indelible mark on our psyches. It means something to identify as a Midwesterner.

Politicians running for office speak of their connection to place. They emphasize being born and raised in the district with family ties that go back X number of generations. Deep personal and family roots in one place display loyalty to that place. Even the Constitution illustrates this unspoken loyalty test. Anyone running for Congress has to reside in that district and be a citizen for at least 7 years. Prospective Senators have to reside in that state and be a citizen for at least 9 years. The President of the United States must be a natural-born citizen of the United States. Place of birth and long residence show loyalty cred. This unspoken loyalty belief helps explain why many claimed President Obama was not born in the United States. Questioning his birth questioned his loyalty. This is why draft dodgers during the Vietnam War who fled to Canada were painted as traitors. Fleeing the draft was seen as a dereliction of duty and displayed disloyalty to the nation.

This psychological phenomenon helps explain why many fear and reject the Refugee. No matter that the refugee fled their country because of persecution because of who they are or what they believed. No matter that the refugee feared for their lives and their family’s lives. A refugee who left their country must not be loyal to their country. How could a disloyal refugee ever be a loyal American citizen? This innate desire to divide people into loyalists and traitors remains as a relic of our species’ youth. Long before civilization sprung into being, discerning loyalists and traitors – who would defend the tribe and who would sell us out – was a matter of life and death. Now that civilization has bloomed and population size has expanded, such mechanisms can harm our ability to build a cohesive, diverse society and love our neighbor as ourselves.

All humans desire home, though at its core home is an idea, not a specific place. Yet even the nomad’s idea of home requires space, though they spend little time in one fixed location. For most, home requires stability only a geographic location – a plot of land, a roof overhead – can bring. Refugees are no different. A refugee has been denied the right to stay in their home country without fear of persecution. Denied by their homeland, they may wander for years in search of a place to call home.

Since 1980 over 3 million refugees now call the United States home. These refugees have immeasurably enriched our country, our state, and our local communities. Today, June 20, 2018, is the International Day of the Refugee.  We celebrate the refugees who have come to this country and remember the more than 22 million refugees who still wait for a place to call home. We should continue to welcome them to the United States – the land of the free, the home of the brave.

The Catherine McAuley Center has welcomed more than 140 refugees to Eastern Iowa since April 2017, and will welcome 44 additional newcomers over the next month! There are many ways you can create a welcoming community for these new neighbors: Volunteer, give, or host a supply drive for household items for newly-arrived families!

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.

Executive Order’s Effect on Refugee Resettlement at CMC

A recent executive order by President Donald Trump regarding refugee resettlement in the United States has, of course, impacted the Catherine McAuley Center.

Our main concern, however, is the effect this order has on the thousands of people who have waited years to be resettled in the U.S.– people who have already faced persecution, war, and other trauma in their home country and are hopeful for a new opportunity for safety and freedom. Many who already call America home are waiting for their wife, husband, child or other family member to join them… and now must wait.

Over the past month, the Catherine McAuley Center has accepted responsibility to resettle about a dozen refugee cases consisting of over 30 people who have U.S. ties (a friend or family member who has agreed to support the refugee’s transition to the U.S.) in Iowa City, Columbus Junction and Cedar Rapids. Thanks to our partners at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, we were prepared to welcome these new friends  into the U.S. in the coming weeks, in some cases only waiting for final confirmation of travel plans. Now, it will be months or longer before we meet them.

The Catherine McAuley Center stands firm in our commitment to welcome and support future newcomers. While we know that the recent executive orders will delay nearly 90,000 refugees who were expected to resettle in the U.S. in 2017 in fulfilling their dreams while their lives remain in jeopardy, we remain hopeful. With YOUR support and action, we can change the outcome for the nation’s tens of thousands of incoming refugees, including the thirty people who were anticipated to settle in Eastern Iowa with the assistance of the Catherine McAuley Center.

We will attempt to keep information up to date through our Facebook page and our website. Please know that new information is coming in at a rapid pace, so your best source for current information on this issue, at this point, is through reliable news media.

Thank you so much for your support of the CMC mission, and most importantly, your support of refugees, immigrants, and women. We must each take action individually and encourage others to take action to make our voices heard for what we believe represents our U.S. values and basic principles of democracy.

Gratefully,

Paula Land
Executive Director

New Refugee Resettlement Program

Dear Friends,

We have big news!

PaulaFor more than 27 years, the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) has used our expertise in the education and human services fields to support our students’ and residents’ connectedness with the wider community, helping them build communication and life skills that enable them to achieve their goals. Starting in 2017, we’ll expand our expertise and mission to offer hope and opportunity to some of Cedar Rapids’ newest residents—refugees.

brighter-futures-towerWe live in an age of humanitarian crisis in which more than 65 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to devastating conflicts. Of these millions, the U.S. is anticipated to welcome 110,000 refugees in the coming year. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), one of the nation’s leading refugee resettlement agencies, found Cedar Rapids to be an ideal site for expanded resettlement because of our community’s low cost of living, stable job market, and strong healthcare, educational and social services networks.

To expand on local resettlement efforts conducted for the last decade by Catholic Charities, USCRI identified CMC as an agency with strong capacity to undertake such an initiative. Beyond our supportive team of 600+ volunteers and 800+ donors are two new RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps members to help us launch this exciting new program. CMC has a history of adapting to meet real human needs through our Adult Basic Education and Transitional Housing programs. Refugee Resettlement is another opportunity to help meet an urgent need in today’s world.

Refugee resettlement is not just an opportunity to meet a need—it’s an opportunity to enrich the Cedar Rapids community through diversity and new perspectives. Building upon our rich immigrant heritage, our newest residents will also help our community to grow and thrive. With these new efforts, we anticipate greater collaboration among community agencies which will not only benefit refugees, but other community members as well.

The support of the CMC community has been a constant source of encouragement. As we turn the page and enter a new chapter of CMC history, we wanted you to be among the first to know and invite you to get involved and help create a safe and inviting community for our new neighbors!

Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness and generosity. The CMC staff, board of directors, and I are excited to share this new chapter with you as we pave the way for safety, freedom, new beginnings, and opportunity.

With hope,
Paula copy
Paula Land
Executive Director