[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Migration Ministries Approach a Milestone in the Church’s 40-Year History of Participation in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program: This Month, the Church to Surpass 100,000 People helped establish new homes in the United States after fleeing war, violence and persecution. in their country of origin.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many of these refugees came from East Africa, South Asia and Eastern Europe. In recent years, new arrivals have most often been displaced by unrest in Burma, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to State Department data. And over the past four months, Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMMs, and its affiliated local organizations have rushed to welcome thousands of Afghan evacuees who have been cleared into the United States after the Taliban took over. control of Afghanistan in August.
While each new neighbor has a personal story to share, all 100,000 benefited from the support of local Episcopalians and a range of federally funded services provided by EMM affiliates, including English lessons and cultural guidance, employment services, school enrollment and initial assistance with accommodation and transportation.
âThey all have an underlying common thread, which is that they are people in need of protection. They were looking for safety and security, âEMM chief operating officer Demetrio Alvero told Episcopal News Service. He estimated that the church would take the leap in the week leading up to Christmas. âThe 100,000 represents 100,000 lives that have changed; they found safety in this country, they found hope, opportunities.
The work of the EMM is historically rooted in the former Presiding Bishop’s Global Relief Fund, which began in the 1930s and 1940s helping people in Europe fleeing the Nazis. After World War II, the Episcopal Church joined with 16 other Protestant denominations to establish Church World Service to provide overseas aid and relocation assistance to displaced people. After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia were resettled in American communities with the help of the Episcopal Church.
The current federal refugee resettlement program was established in 1980, and the Episcopal Church has been involved from the start, through the Presiding Bishop’s Fund. EMM was established in 1988 as a separate agency to coordinate the resettlement work of the Episcopal Church.
Ali Al Sudani is one of nearly 100,000 people who have received assistance from the Episcopal Church to resettle in the United States. He was 36 when he arrived in Houston, Texas as a 2009 refugee. Al Sudani told ENS he fled his native Iraq because of threats to his safety due to his working as a translator for the US-led coalition of troops stationed in his country. .
Al Sudani is now the program manager for Interfaith Ministries in Greater Houston, the branch of EMM that helped welcome him to Houston 12 years ago. He praised the episcopal agency’s continued commitment to serving refugees as the church nears its resettlement milestone.
âAs a recipient of the support of the Episcopal Church, I think it’s wonderful,â said Al Sudani, when asked about the size of 100,000 resettled people. EMM and Interfaith Ministries not only facilitated his transition to the Houston community, he said. They also helped him find purpose through his work helping other refugees to start a new life there. “I will always be grateful for this opportunity.”
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church regularly expresses its support for refugee resettlement, most recently in 2018, when it called on governments “to expand refugee resettlement as a humanitarian response that provides safety and opportunity for individuals. “. Its support for immigrants dates back at least to 1883, when it established a Committee for the Spiritual Care of Immigrants. The following chaplaincies were based in New York and at West Coast ports to serve immigrants from Europe and Asia.
Most of the 100,000 people resettled by the church over the past 40 years have come to the United States as refugees. The EMM also helps recipients of special immigrant visas, which the government typically offers to people who have worked with the U.S. military overseas.
This year, EMM has been asked to assist approximately 3,200 Afghans evacuated upon their arrival in cities like Houston. Some may be able to apply for special immigrant visas, while others will apply for asylum. They are among 50,000 Afghans who have been welcomed into the country as part of a humanitarian parole program linked to the end of the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan.
While not classified as refugees, they will receive services similar to those provided to refugees by EMM and the other eight agencies with federal contracts to carry out the resettlement program. The other agencies are Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief Corporation.
Helping refugees âis a tangible way of living out our commitment to be a church that looks and acts like Jesus, sharing its way of loving with all, especially the most vulnerable among us,â Reverend Charles Robertson, Canon of the presiding bishop. for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, said in a written statement to the ENS. âAlthough EMM is one of the smaller of the nine official US resettlement agencies, it has been recognized as a model of excellence in this vital work. “
Alvero, EMM’s director of operations, said the agency typically resettles around 5% of the total refugees brought into the country through the federal program. Historically, EMM has served approximately 2,000 to 3,000 refugees per year, with a peak of 6,600 resettled in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. At that time, EMM was overseeing the work of 31 resettlement affiliates in 26 dioceses.
Refugee resettlement fell under the Trump administration, as President Donald Trump pursued policies to restrict both legal and illegal immigration. Trump has reduced the maximum number of refugees allowed into the United States to an all-time low of 15,000 per year, from a standard of between 70,000 and 90,000 over the previous two decades.
The decrease in resettlement activity has forced all nine resettlement agencies to end their work with around 100 local affiliates, Alvero said, and the number of EMM affiliates has since declined to 11.
Global resettlement needs, on the other hand, have only increased in recent years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are 26 million such refugees in the world, and tens of millions more have been displaced in their countries of origin.
With President Joe Biden taking office in January, his administration pledged to work with the EMM and other resettlement agencies to restore a welcoming spirit for refugees fleeing war and persecution in their homes. native country. Biden increased the resettlement cap to 125,000 for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, although it is not yet known how soon EMM and other resettlement agencies will be able to scale up operations to welcome additional refugees in awaiting resettlement.
âThis country is big enough and wealthy enough to really help 125,000,â Alvero said, but the government must restore its overseas processing operations to full capacity while resettlement agencies rebuild networks that have been decimated under Trump. EMM has yet to add any new affiliates, although it is looking for options in Kansas, West Virginia and Wyoming, a state with no history of refugee resettlement.
For those Afghans who arrived in the United States under the humanitarian parole program, EMM called on Episcopalians and their congregations and dioceses to support the resettlement work by making online donations to the Neighbors Welcome: Afghan Allies Fund and by volunteering in other ways they can do it through an online form.
Donations to the Afghan Allies Fund have exceeded $ 500,000 so far, Alvero said.
The Afghans were initially housed in US military bases. Many of them are now heading to Houston, where Interfaith Ministries is hosting around 1,300 people, Al Sudani said. About 730 have already moved to the city. Most of the rest are expected by mid-February
The number of arrivals is unprecedented in such a short time, he said, but the community and the Episcopal Church are intensifying. âWe have seen a surge of support during this crisis in a way we have never experienced before,â he said.
He recalled a similar experience when he first arrived in Houston in 2009, unsure of what to expect. âMy perception of Houston was about oil and, you know, the Wild West, cowboys. But I was surprised to see how welcoming, generous and supportive the people of Houston are. It’s a great city.
Now, as interfaith ministries and other EMM affiliates are about to begin welcoming the church’s next 100,000 refugees, Al Sudani, who became a U.S. citizen in 2014, said the mission underlying endures. âWe are creating new Americans,â he said. “We are helping these people become new Americans and supporting them in their contribution to their communities.”
– David Paulsen is editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be contacted at [email protected].