I still feel emotional thinking about when I stepped off a plane in Dallas in 2001 and saw my new home in America. Over the previous five years, I’d fled war in the Congo and nearly lost my life and my family to tribal violence. Against all odds, we’d made it out alive.
I feel so lucky to have landed in this country, but it saddens me to know that refugees today don’t have the same opportunity to come to the U.S. as we did — and that many could lose their lives because of it.
America is welcoming fewer refugees than ever, down to a mere 30,000 for 2019. That’s the lowest figure in nearly 40 years. In Texas, refugee resettlement fell 79 percent between 2017 and 2018. Now, President Donald Trump wants to cut that number even further, possibly to zero.
These policies are not just cruel. They’re also damaging to the U.S. economy. Refugees fill labor shortages in key industries from healthcare to meat processing, and they paid almost $23.3 billion in taxes in 2017, according to New American Economy, which aims to highlights the economic benefits of immigration.
They’re also more likely to start businesses: 13 percent of refugees are entrepreneurs, compared to 9 percent of native-born Americans. That’s significant job creation and tax revenue our country stands to lose.
I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in America. I’d almost lost hope in the Congo.
The year the war began, I was pregnant with our third child. When I went to the hospital to give birth, I heard that rebels were slaughtering members of my tribe — women and children included. The hospital staff hid me for three days.
After I had the baby, I fled to Rwanda, leaving my family behind. I had no idea if they were even still alive. Finally, three years later, we reunited at a refugee camp. We applied for asylum, and to our amazement, we were accepted into the U.S.
When we arrived, we wanted to give back to the country that had welcomed us. My husband and I worked as nurses in the Congo, but our credentials didn’t transfer. So, my husband worked in a hotel laundry department, and I became a day-care teacher while I studied for my U.S. nursing assistant certificate.
In 2004, I received my certificate and began working in the ICU department at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital. I was glad to pay forward the kindness I received. I worked there for 16 years and likely saved more than a thousand lives a year. My husband worked at the same hospital in the material transportation department.
Today, my children are also thriving. My son graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and joined the U.S. Army. One of my daughters is applying to nursing school, and two others are working as home health care aides in Fort Worth.
This means five members of my family contribute to the Texas health care industry, which is struggling to find enough workers. Available healthcare jobs outnumber healthcare workers in every state, but the two cities with the largest gaps are Houston and Dallas.
Today, I work at Refugee Services of Texas, helping families like mine acclimate to life in America. I became a citizen in 2015 and it was an incredible feeling to call myself an American.
America allowed me to not just survive, but to live again. I plan to do everything I can to return the favor. I know the refugees we welcome today feel the same. Let’s not keep them out.