Letter to the Editor: The Refugees and Aid Funding Butterfly Effect

“Each time a person stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 
― Robert F. Kennedy

These are words that I have always admired, ones which spoke deeply to my aspirations growing up in Clarion. Now, having just celebrated my ten-year high school reunion, I am in a much different place than I had forecasted from the safety of that community. After living abroad for a year, and now working with refugees in Des Moines, I have seen that these words are more than just a call to brotherly arms. It is a universal truth enacted every day, and whether you actively participate or not you are affecting the outcome.

As of July, over 57,000 unaccompanied children from Central America (twice as many as the government forecasted), have fled violence in Central America seeking safety in the United States. The children are not sneaking in, they are very openly asking for asylum. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the US Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for them, and in response to these numbers the ORR is transferring $94 million to the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program.

To do so, they are diverting funds away from existing refugee programs across the nation. Effectively, this would mean that budgets for things like English language courses, translation services, career planning, and housing placement would be slashed, leaving programs appallingly underfunded, understaffed, and underprepared to help the refugee communities transition into a state of independence.

Refugees are a vulnerable population (and children coming into this country are indisputably so) but diverting funds from programs nationwide to cover a misshapen budget is not the answer. If something isn’t done to properly address the current situation and its financial requirements, refugee groups across the country will suffer as a result of these budget cuts. 

In response, the Obama administration has requested that Congress enact a $3.7 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill* to cover the extreme influx of those requiring government and social services. The initially proposed ‘solution’ of diverting $94 million funds from existing programs should not even be on the table as an option. It is a lazily concocted catalyst which will create a chain reaction of bad things for social programs for the long term, for not only the refugee communities, but communities in general. It is merely a quick fix, proposed by those who can’t or don’t care to predict this misstep’s harmful trajectory.

As citizens of the United States, we enjoy quite a few basic freedoms, including the freedom to express ourselves. We also carry the responsibility of holding our representatives accountable for their actions (or inactions). With this letter I intend to do both, and I humbly request that you do the same, by contacting the Iowa representatives in Congress and telling them they need to approve the funding requested and outlined in the Appropriations Bill. If they don’t, services for refugees will plummet, and the communities they live in will feel the brush back.

Earlier this year, I had several pieces appear in the Wright County Monitor regarding my experiences as a foreign teacher in Burma/Myanmar. After living in a part of the world where human rights are not universal, and where democracy is a concept not put into practice because of an onslaught of corruption I have developed an awareness of just how much freedom and comfort I actually enjoy.  

There is a Native American proverb that says: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” The proposed “solution” of divesting funds previously allocated to refugee programs will create social problems that our children will still be untangling.  Regardless of how opinions may differ on whether or how non-citizens are welcomed into this country, you are affected by their presence, and they are affected by your actions. I’d like to urge you to utilize the privileges you have to benefit those who would be most harmed by these budget cuts.

Refugees are not just immigrants; they are people fleeing persecution, genocide, and daily terror when they undertake the perilous process of seeking asylum. To be so tremendously underprepared to help them transition is an abhorrent disservice to us, and a disgraceful display of a lacking social awareness.

You may not agree with this administration, or with my own politics, and that capability is just one aspect of what makes living here great: we have the freedom to disagree. I would argue, however, that our Humanism ultimately holds us accountable for taking care of one another.  In saying that, I ask you to please take a few minutes and help us reclaim our status as a nation which actively participates in its Democracy, by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, (or finding direct office lines for your representatives on their website at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov) and sharing your own thoughts regarding the issue.

For more information, check out the following websites:
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (Unaccompanied Children’s Services):

Refugee Council USA

More information on the supplemental request

*From Refugee Council USA:

Organization or Service

Amount

Office of Refugee Resettlement

$1.83 billion

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

$1.1 billion

Customs and Border Protection

$433 million

State Department

$300 million

Department of Justice

$64 million

 

 

More from Katilyn Husigna Munro on the Monitor, about her time teachign in Myanmar:

From Clarion to Myanmar, Along with the West

Of Life and Work in Mynamar, with the Land and Children

Clarion and Myanmar, Back and There Again