People who help refugees in Colorado are concerned that their program funding may be diverted to help the unaccompanied children coming over the border, and the refugee community is taking action by visiting local politicians to lobby for their cause.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement — which funds a variety of programs including refugee assistance and the needs of unaccompanied child migrants — has proposed redirecting $94 million in funding from refugee programs to use for the humanitarian crisis of children coming across the borders.
The number of children this year has swamped projections, creating a funding shortfall, and in June the agency notified Congress that it must reduce refugee services.
Since then, the Obama administration has asked Congress to consider emergency supplemental appropriations including $3.7 billion to help the humanitarian situation.
Of that amount, $1.8 billion would go to the Department of Health and Human Services, to provide the appropriate care for unaccompanied children while maintaining services for refugees.
If Congress approves the emergency funding, there will be no cuts to the refugee programs, said Stacie Blake, spokeswoman for the U.S. Committee for Refuges and Immigrants. But without that funding, she said, across the United States, programs in English as a second language will be eliminated, critical employment programs for refugees will be shut down, and thousands of Americans who serve refugees will lose their jobs.
A delegation of about eight refugees recently visited the Aurora office of U.S.Rep. Mike Coffman.
Coffman agrees."We explained that you cannot solve one crisis by creating another crisis," said Bhuwan Tyakurel, a community leader with the Global Bhutanese Community Colorado.
"It would be wrong to divert any funding that is already dedicated to serving the African, Burmese, Bhutanese and Nepalese refugees in my district who are already in this country," he said via email. "No doubt, what is occurring at the border is a humanitarian crisis but arbitrarily punishing one immigrant community for the benefit of another is wrong, and what is needed right now is a solution that stops the problem at our border from getting worse."
In Colorado, everyone from refugees to school districts could be impacted, according to an informal survey of conducted by local agencies that contract for refugee services.
About 240 refugees will not receive ESL courses for each month that funding is unavailable, the report said, and about 500 refugee children each year will not receive in-school and after-school assistance with social adjustment and high school graduation goals. An estimated 1,500 refugees will not receive employment services and will likely be unemployed.
"It's quite alarming," said Linda Van Doren, dean of instruction adult education and language learning center at Emily Griffith Technical College, which teaches ESL classes to adult refugees in metro Denver. "Everything is in flux right now."
Jennifer Gueddiche, director of the African Community Center of Denver, is particularly concerned about the impact on Iraqi refugees who helped the United States during the Iraq war.
Three refugees from Iraq are scheduled to arrive soon, she said, "and a carload arrived just the other day, resettled from another state...As an American, I'm kind of shocked that we would consider turning our backs on them. We made a commitment to help people who risked their lives to support our military men and women."
For Tyakurel, who arrived five years ago as a refugee, it's about helping refugees become successful Americans. He has a job and is soon to become an American citizen.
"I had cultural orientation (programs) when I came here, and it's very difficult without that," he said. "People being resettled in this country need the many support systems like ESL classes and refugee schools to get into the job market and become self-sufficient."