New Trump refugee policies could close more than 20 Catholic Charities resettlement offices

A Pakistani woman and her daughter stand in a buffet line during a Catholic Charities-hosted party for refugees held in observance of World Refugee Day June 2017 in Amityville, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)A Pakistani woman and her daughter stand in a buffet line during a Catholic Charities-hosted party for refugees held in observance of World Refugee Day June 2017 in Amityville, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

After decades helping refugee families become Americans, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque announced on Dec. 18 that it was getting out of the business. Its 77-year-old refugee resettlement ministry was being shut down.

“Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque has been resettling refugees from all over the world in Eastern Iowa since 1940,” said its executive director, Tracy Morrison, in a statement released by the Dubuque Catholic Charities office. “It’s a loss for our entire community.”

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“Our faith guides us to believe in the dignity of all persons and the need to protect the most vulnerable, especially refugees and migrants,” Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels added in the statement. “It is with a heavy heart that we announce the ending of this ministry.”

Donna Markham, O.P., president and C.E.O. of Catholic Charities USA, is concerned that the Dubuque refugee office is only the beginning of what could become a nationwide shuttering of other small refugee resettlement efforts. New directives shared by State Department officials on Dec. 1 with the nine major refugee resettlement institutions in the United States—Catholic Charities the largest among them, she said—suggest that hundreds of refugee resettlement programs across the country may be closed over the coming months.

“We have received some indication that those agencies that are serving under 100 resettlement clients a year are at risk for being discontinued, of losing their federal contracts,” she said on Jan. 9. “So some of the agencies that are very small are threatened.”

“People that are entering the United States from another culture are faced with lack of hospitality and welcoming that is frankly an embarrassment to many of us who are American citizens.”

Sister Markham emphasized that the closing of the refugee programs “is not a decision that Catholic Charities is making…this is being driven by the decisions being made by the [Trump] administration.

“Clearly the tone coming from the administration is that people that are entering the United States from another culture are faced with lack of hospitality and welcoming that is frankly an embarrassment to many of us who are American citizens,” she said.

“We think that 25 to 30 percent of our agencies are at risk,” Sister Markham said. That means as many as 17 to 23 Catholic Charities offices around the country are now confronting the end of programs that have been successfully assimilating thousands of refugees into U.S. society for decades. Altogether about 70 of Catholic Charities USA’s 166 offices maintain refugee programs.

The potential loss in institutional memory, expertise and experience, according to Sister Markham, is incalculable.

The skills required to assist refugees families in assimilating to life in the United States, from accessing language classes and job training, assisting with housing and social integration and health care, are not easily replicated. “It’s going to be a huge loss” for Catholic Charities, she said.

“We have tried to take some of our refugee resettlement caseworkers and cross-train them to work with undocumented immigrants, helping them to get legal status, but [that skill development is] very difficult,” she added.

Just 5,000 refugees were accepted into the United States during the first quarter of fiscal 2018, meaning as few as 20,000 refugees may be allowed into the country this year.

And, assuming a future shift in policy might be more generous to the world’s refugees, reopening a shuttered site could prove prohibitively expensive. “The sophistication involved in training a caseworker in managing these clients is quite complex,” said Sister Markham. “These are not programs that can just be restarted.”

Despite criticism from some alt-right and conservative commentators, Catholic Charities and other agencies involved in refugee services are not just agonizing over the loss of fat federal contracts. In fact, according to Sister Markham, Catholic Charities does not make a cent from its refugee programs.

Like most of Catholic Charities’ efforts, refugee resettlement is paid for through a combination of public and private resources, abetted by Catholic Charities own fundraising. Federal contracts pay about 70 percent of the costs for refugee resettlement, Sister Markham said, with Catholic Charities itself covering the final 30 percent, in effect, subsidizing U.S. policy on refugee assimilation.

But, facing the loss of all federal support, she does not believe individual Catholic Charities agencies with smaller client bases will be able to assume the entire cost of such programs. They will continue, however, to support refugees any way they can through other Catholic Charities programs like housing, food or other social assistance.

Sister Markham notes that ad hoc approach represents a far less efficient way to help refugees mainstream into American life, “which is the goal of the [federal] refugee resettlement program.”

Part of the crisis looming over small resettlement offices reflects a steep drop in the number of refugees being allowed into the United States. In the last year of the Obama administration, 110,000 were admitted. That number was cut to 45,000 last year, the lowest cap since the modern U.S. refugee admissions system was established in 1980. But U.S. refugee resettlement numbers are on pace to decline even more in the coming year. According to a Wall Street Journal report, just 5,000 refugees were accepted into the United States during the first quarter of fiscal 2018, meaning as few as 20,000 refugees may be allowed into the country this year.

According to U.N. figures, as many as 22.5 million people are currently refugees crowded in third-party states such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Kenya. Many thousands of those millions have been waiting, often for years, for resettlement in the United States.

Even as the Trump administration continues a series of policy shifts interpreted by many as unnecessarily punitive to people forced into migration by crime, conflict or poverty, Sister Markham urged U.S. Catholics to remember their spiritual obligation to refugees and migrants “coming from all over the world” and from every faith.

Catholics in the United States are celebrating National Migration Week, which concludes with the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Jan. 14. The administration’s moves on refugee numbers contrasts starkly with the spirit of the pope’s message for the day.

Remembering that “every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis urges “broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally” and “a concrete commitment to increase and simplify the process for granting humanitarian visas and for reunifying families.”

Beyond the spiritual harm represented by a collective indifference to refugees, Sister Markham argues that all Americans lose out when the federal government turns its back on refugees. “We’ll be losing some extremely valuable potential citizens who would have contributed very markedly to the quality of our society,” she said.

That positive assessment is shared, oddly enough, by the Trump administration. A draft study conducted last year by the Department of Health and Human Services, requested but then apparently suppressed by senior officials in the Trump administration, found that refugees ultimately produced $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than the cost of their assimilation assistance.

And a study released in June 2017 by researchers at the University of Notre Dame concludes that the long-term economic benefit to U.S. society far outweighs the start up costs of resettling adult refugees, adding that refugees who enter U.S. life as children are an even better social investment.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Eileen Malloy
9 months 1 week ago

Illegal aliens break 3 Commandments. They covet, then lie, then steal. They should follow the law, not selfishly break it. Trump is a good person and understands fairness and honesty, and that collaboration with law breaking is sinful. I hope this comment makes a few champagne socialist Je$uit grads think about the 10 Commandments and honesty.

Kevin Clarke
9 months 1 week ago

The folks referenced here do not arrive in the United States without documentation. They are vetted and allowed legal entry into the nation as asylum seekers. Personally I would err on the side of mercy for most migrants seeking refuge in the US. That worked out pretty ok for my grandparents. I haven’t forgotten.

Chris Hohowski
9 months 1 week ago

‘Whatsoever you do to the least...you do to me’. Yes it’s that simple. And it’s terribly frightening to simply know it all and turn them away. And it’s why Jesus was killed by the way when you get through all the theology. How do we break the hardest of hearts?

Eileen Malloy
9 months 1 week ago

That’s right. People should never selfishly break laws and Commandments. Jesus would never do or condone that. Ask the cheats, liars, and selfish lawbreakers: “what so ever you do....”

Vincent Gaglione
9 months 1 week ago

The article states: Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels : “It is with a heavy heart that we announce the ending of this ministry.”

I'd prefer less of a heavy heart and more of a heavy mouth condemning this transgression of Christian charity and mercy for refugees and immigrants in the United States. The first two sentences of Ms. Malloy's comments here make one wonder what exactly she has heard from the pulpit(s) of her parish(es) and her diocese(s) during her lifetime!

Robert Horwath
9 months 1 week ago

I hear about charity, unity, and faith. I hear about helping those in need at their place of need, I do not hear that we need to bring all the suffering and their families into our homes. This is our country, we fought for it, we built it, and we need to protect it not give it away. The fact is it is a lot less expensive and much more effective to work and support people in their own countries than it is to bring them here.

Eileen Malloy
9 months 1 week ago

Correct. The people who break into our country, defy basic laws, or demand instant citizenship, simply do not get the concept: “Do unto others....”. It’s incredible actually, the brazen selfishness and arrogance.

Hey, I want a big suburban mansion like rich Georgetown U. lawyer has! Make way for me. I demand it. It’s only fair. Now give me it.

Dolores Pap
9 months 1 week ago

Eileen- your lack of charity is truly astounding and also, callous and heart breaking. Maybe you aren't such a good fit for a church that is guided by charity and love for their fellow man& woman, and commands its believers to love their fellow man. .Remember this proverb: Proverbs 31:9 says: Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Eileen Malloy
9 months 1 week ago

So when someone breaks 3 Commandments, lies, sneaks, and breaks civil society’s laws, that’s charitable? No, it’s selfish and immoral. Dishonesty is never condoned by Jesus the founder of my religion, the Apostolic Church known as Catholicism.

J.I. Swiderski
9 months 1 week ago

Did you read the article, or the earlier response to your comments? "The folks referenced here do not arrive in the United States without documentation. They are vetted and allowed legal entry into the nation as asylum seekers."

Ellen B
9 months ago

Ummm... hate to break it to you, but those aren't 3 commandments "Eileen".

So in addition to doubting your name, & the sex you have chosen to display by choice of name, I kind of doubt that you are Catholic or Christian.

Susan Bruns
9 months 1 week ago

I find it astounding that we can not be of one mind in this discussion. We are led by the example of Jesus’s charity and love. There is no other way.

Eileen Malloy
9 months 1 week ago

To lie and illegally break into a country is not a charitable act, it’s selfish. Admonish the sinner.

Rudolph Koser
9 months ago

I think you are a bot, certainly not human.

Ellen B
9 months ago

The only explanation I can come up with is that people are "trolling" this site. They certainly don't know their Bible:

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
45
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
46
l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Susan Bruns
9 months 1 week ago

I find it astounding that we can not be of one mind in this discussion. We are led by the example of Jesus’s charity and love. There is no other way.

Susan Bruns
9 months 1 week ago

I find it astounding that we can not be of one mind in this discussion. We are led by the example of Jesus’s charity and love. There is no other way.

Ann Johnson
9 months 1 week ago

Is it uncharitable to say that Ms. Malloy is either a troll or hopelessly ignorant or perhaps can't read? She keeps repeating the same erroneous statements over and over again. Kevin Clarke got it exactly right, but I guess she'd prefer to believe her own facts. I am a Jesuit grad, not a Je$uit grad, and I work with refugee resettlement. These are legal refugees who come, having been promised admission because they worked for the US Army in Afghanistan at great danger to themselves. They settle in, get jobs, often ones that no one wants, and their children learn English, go to college, and become people who support our economy. Mr. Horvath thinks we can just help them in their own country. What does he think the army has been doing there all these years? We don't want to stay in Afghanistan until the end of time. In fact, many Americans want our troops all out. He says "It's our country...we need to protect it". Funny, that's probably what Indian tribes said too. Is he worried about protecting it from the refugees? Who has committed the recent mass murders in Las Vegas, Charleston, Sandy Hook? Not refugees.

Lisa Weber
9 months 1 week ago

Your opening question is not uncharitable, it is a reasonable guess based on the available evidence. I agree your other comments. I would add that I find the current state of open hatred toward immigrants in this country appalling.

Ellen B
9 months ago

Everything you said.

I think "Eileen" just changed his screen name to "Genevieve" for comments BTW.

Ellen B
9 months ago

Everything you said.

I think "Eileen" just changed his screen name to "Genevieve" for comments BTW.

Tim Donovan
9 months ago

This is somewhat off the topic, but in sum, I do think that refugees should be welcomed into our nation. Some years ago, I worked at a group home with disabled men. Several of my co-workers were immigrants from Liberia, who had fled from a brutal civil war, seeking a better life in our nation.

Charles Erlinger
9 months ago

If I might refer to the main topic in this article, the potential forced closing of a number of Catholic Charities, USA ministries to legal refugees, this should, in my opinion, prompt a process of reconsidering our U.S. Catholic relationship to the government as a contract provider of goods and services. Many, if not most, of our core Catholic ministries are so intertwined with the government that our strategic planning is literally dictated more by politicians than by our noblest impulses and scripturally inspired mission goals. This is true not only in the area of immigration and refugee services, but also in health care, education and many other activities. Ask a Catholic hospital system administrator, for instance, whether core ministry mission or government policy drives strategic planning, forcing layoffs, entity sales, mergers and acquisitions, and capital investments.

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