Refugees in America: A Thanksgiving Reflection
In 1620, a group of refugees left Southampton, England for Plymouth, Massachusetts seeking religious freedom. These refugees are of course who we refer to today as Pilgrims. On Thursday, we commemorate the “First Thanksgiving” between the Pilgrims and a group of Native Americans. Millions of Americans will sit around dinner tables across the country feasting on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Many will even go around the table saying what they are thankful for in 2009. Refugees are especially thankful for the opportunity to embrace American values such as freedom and to be safe from harm, which many of them were not able to do in their countries of origin.
However, with the current economic climate, this holiday season there will be people who are unable to fill their plates with hearty Thanksgiving meals. Immigrants and particularly refugees have been especially hit hard by the recession.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently 348,776 refugees and asylum seekers living in the U.S. In fiscal year 2009, the U.S. admitted 74,652 refugees including 18,833 Iraqi refugees. As the Iraq war continues, the U.S. has pledged to take in a “substantial” number of refugees, pushing these numbers even higher.
While there are many agencies that assist in resettling refugees (including CLINIC affiliates such as local Catholic Charities agencies) the economic downturn has taken a toll on charitable giving, and they are not able to accommodate the increased need for services. Additionally, the economy has left scores of refugees unemployed, homeless, and hungry. They are faced with repaying loans from companies that were contracted by the U.S. to assist in resettling them, and some refugees are starting to receive financial assistance from relatives in home countries that have become more stable since they left. There have even been reports of bias attacks against refugees in cities such as Syracuse.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network calls to mind that Jesus was a refugee too. That is why CLINIC remains committed to serving the refugee community. Since 2006, CLINIC has assisted refugees in the naturalization process by providing technical assistance (training, resources, consultations, and capacity-building) to local legal service providers who work with refugees and by conducting policy advocacy with USCIS on issues affecting refugees such as disability waivers, fee waivers, and naturalization processing delays.
In addition, CLINIC coordinates a national information and referral line, funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, for people who are granted asylum. The referral line links asylees to local refugee resettlement services and programs designed to facilitate their integration and early self-sufficiency, such as job placement services, English classes, and temporary cash assistance.
So, as you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this week, remember to thank God for all of the blessings bestowed upon you and say a prayer for those who are less fortunate this holiday season.
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