By: Crista Cornavaca and James Porter
1 a : one's place of residence : domicile b : house
2 : the social unit formed by a family living together
3 a : a familiar or usual setting : congenial environment; also : the focus of one's domestic attention
4 a : a place of ; also : one's own country
The theme of World Refugee Day 2010 is “Home.” For many refugees, this word evokes strong emotions as they may never return to the place they call home. It is therefore our duty as Americans and as Christians to welcome these vulnerable people into our home with open arms.
In a message from Pope John Paul II for Lent 1990 titled, "Refugees Are Neighbors” he states:
[Refugees must be guaranteed] the right to establish a family or to be reunited with their families; to have a stable, dignified occupation and a just wage; to live in dwellings fit for human beings; to receive adequate education for their children and young people, as well as adequate health care.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 348,776 refugees and asylum seekers living in the U.S. Close to 75,000 people were granted refugee status in the United States in FY 2009 alone. Among these 75,000 refugees, approximately 25 percent originate from Iraq, 24 percent from Burma, and 18 percent from Bhutan. Although these three countries compose approximately 68 percent of the refugee population in the United States, there are many other countries represented in the refugee population such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Cuba, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Burundi. Refugees and their families now make up an integral part of American society.
Once refugees arrive in the United States, they are resettled by various agencies around the country, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)/Migration and Refugee Services(MRS), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) and other non-profit organizations such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The most refugee- populated states include California (15%), Texas (11%), New York (5.9%), Arizona (5.8%), Florida (5.6%) and Michigan (4.7%). Almost half of all refugees settled in the United States reside in one of these six states. The Catholic Church, under USCCB/MRS and its affiliates resettles about 30 percent of all refugees that enter the United States during a given year. Assistance includes food, shelter, employment, housing, ESL and integration assistance.
The demographic of the American refugee population is important to the future of our country. Approximately half of the refugee population in the United States is under the age of 25. Additionally, about 55 percent of all refugees are unmarried, the majority being male. This young, vibrant, and diverse population can mean more naturalized U.S. citizens in the near future that bring different languages, cultures, traditions and varying perspectives on international issues to our country.
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.
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