July 7, 2014

Refugee agency needs funding now

Federal resettlement money is being drained to meet needs of newly arriving children.

The United States is facing a humanitarian crisis as more and more immigrant children find their way across the border. It is a tragedy, no matter what your beliefs on the larger issue of immigration reform.

But alongside this crisis is another tragedy waiting in the wings. Because there isn’t enough funding to cover both the unaccompanied minors as well as traditional refugee services, the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is about to experience a grave budget shortfall.

Starting this month, ORR plans to reprogram $94 million away from refugee services to meet the needs of the newly arriving children.

As a refugee from the Congo, I know well how important these funds are. In 1998, I wrote a news article about the genocide of people in my country, and I was attacked as a result.

I lost my home and was jailed, where I was beaten so badly my arm was broken and my back was burned with an electrical wire. I was forced to eat, drink, stand and urinate in the same water in the dark.

When finally the prison guards came to check on all of the prisoners, they realized I was the only one who had survived those conditions. The darkness had taken my sight, but the general of the prison recognized me as an elementary school friend.

Covered in lice and starving, I got out because of his mercy.

I was placed under international protection and made my way to America as a refugee, where Catholic Charities Fort Worth resettled me, helping me learn English, get set up in an apartment and find honorable work to become self-sufficient.

Today, I hold a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Texas at Arlington, and I am proud to be an American citizen.

We refugees are hard workers, finding pride in cutting fruit or assembling cell phones all day in order to experience freedom from the war-torn nations we left in our past. I believe that empowered refugees make our community grow.

At Catholic Charities Fort Worth, about 600 refugees are resettled every year. Their stories vary, but in many ways they are the same.

They are leaving dangerous and poverty-stricken countries to come to America and work as hard, sometimes harder, than many Americans.

If the ORR budget is not increased, it and many other valuable agencies will lose funding for vital programs that serve as the lifeline to incoming refugees, enabling them to rise above poverty.

This refugee community enhances the diversity and intrigue of North Texas.

In blunt terms, to prevent ongoing gaps in refugee services nationwide, ORR must receive $200 million more to cover reprogrammed funds this year.

Even then, ORR will need an increased amount of $3.167 billion to ensure consistent and quality services in 2015.

Both chambers of Congress are considering legislation that would greatly assist refugees in the U.S. and internationally.

Because funds will begin to be re-directed within the next few weeks, I invite you to contact your U.S. representative and senators by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or find their direct office lines on their websites at house.gov and senate.gov.

Tell them that you care about refugees, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable populations. Let them know that you support increasing the budget for ORR so that refugees can support themselves, their families and their communities.

If funding is cut, that does not mean these refugees will not come to Fort Worth. Instead, they will arrive with fewer resources and fewer opportunities to become contributing members of society.

I’d like to show Congress that we care, and that that’s not how we do things here in Fort Worth. I hope you’ll join in my efforts.

El Memeyi Marangwa has lived in Fort Worth since 2000.

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