Elise fled a civil war in Burundi, a small African nation, and applied for refugee status with the hope of finding a safe place to raise her children. Years later, in 2013, she received the news that the United States would take in most of her family. However, they would have to leave two of her children, Quinn and Jibiile, in a refugee camp with their aunts and uncles.
Elise and her husband were then faced with a choice: come to the United States and receive the medical assistance one child needed or stay in Africa to keep their family together. They decided to come to the United States, hoping that Quinn and Jibiile would soon follow.
Since coming to Spokane, Elise and her family have contributed much to our community. Her children are involved in local schools, her husband works two jobs, and Elise will soon begin the process to become a United States citizen. They have tried every available means to apply for their children to join them here in Spokane. But despite their best efforts, Elise’s family is still separated.
In the next few weeks, the president will decide on a new refugee admissions cap for 2019. Despite having the lowest admission of refugees entering our country in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, reports indicate that the White House is planning to further decrease the admissions number to approximately half of what it is this year. In Spokane we’ve gone from welcoming 597 refugees in 2016 to fewer than 200 in 2018, with the very real possibility of further cuts forcing World Relief Spokane’s resettlement program to close all together. Clearly, given such drastic cuts, the chances for families like Elise’s to be reunited become slim.
Although it has been proved that welcoming refugees into our country is helpful for our economy and compatible with national and local security, I am most concerned about what a rejection of refugees says of America’s values.
America is a great and thriving nation because it has historically welcomed those who were fleeing for their lives and given them an opportunity to build a new life. This is the ancestral story many Americans carry with them, including many of us who now call the Inland Northwest home. My hope is that Quinn, Jibiile and thousands of other refugees will get to live that story as a result of the president’s choice in the upcoming month.
There are dozens of other stories like Elise’s in our community, families separated by war and persecution that our nation could easily reunite if we choose to accept a reasonable number of refugees in the coming year. Refugee resettlement makes sense. It is a solution to a horrific humanitarian crisis, makes possible family reunification, benefits our communities in exponential ways and is sewn into the fabric of our country’s history.
Stories like Elise’s remind us that we must continue to stand for and with refugees and immigrants in our community, advocating for compassionate, common-sense policies. If you would like to help Elise and other families with similar stories, I ask that you would take a minute to pick up your phone and call the White House and your local elected officials to ask them to allow at least 75,000 refugees to come to the U.S. next year.
Mark Finney, Ph.D., is director of World Relief Spokane