Mothers, fathers, and children at risk of displacement, persecution, torture, and death.
That’s the startling reality Mark Hagar paints when asked to describe refugees who are resettled in the United States. Hagar is the Dallas Area Director of Refugee Services of Texas (RST), a social-service agency that helps resettle refugees in Texas.
Even prior to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, refugee resettlement in Texas and across the U.S. was, at times, a contentious issue surrounded by misconceptions. For one, there’s the false assumption that allowing refugees into the U.S. poses a security risk. All refugees that are resettled through organizations like RST have legal documentation, have been fully vetted and security screened.
There’s also a narrative that refugees are a strain on public resources. Hagar outlines that not only is this incorrect, the families that come here demonstrably add more than they subtract. He says “Over the past decade, refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenue than they accessed in benefits, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report”. Of course, this isn’t to say that refugees should only be welcomed based on their value add, instead of the sheer fact of being a human being in need.
Despite this, leaders and policymakers have tried to halt resettlement programs. In January, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Texas would no longer participate in the refugee resettlement program, saying the state and non-profits should focus on people already here. A federal judge temporarily blocked the policy that allowed governors to make such a decision.
Even with that intervention, the program has been under attack in recent years by the Trump administration and RST has seen the impact.
“In recent years, this administration’s unprecedented attack on resettling refugees has plunged the program into uncertainty, leaving some of the world’s most vulnerable people left wondering if they will ever recover their lives,” says Hagar, “A new refugee admissions ceiling is set every new fiscal year, and from the beginning of the current administration’s tenure to now, the ceiling has dropped from 95,000 refugees to a record low of 18,000”.
It’s easy to get caught up in political debates and numbers, and to forget that real people and families are who is being talked about here. People that have fled some of the most unimaginable horror and trauma there is in the world. One such person is Isaac Dusabamahoro, who was resettled here in North Texas with his family about three years ago by RST. He was born in a refugee camp in Rwanda and his family is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Recently, Hagar and Dusabamahoro spoke during a World Refugee Day webinar with UNICEF USA. Dusabamahoro recounted his journey to the U.S. and the highly orchestrated plan he constructed for gaining access to books in the camp to learn how to speak English. You’ll need to watch his video associated with his story, but let’s just say it was in the vein of an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist.
When asked about his first impressions when his family arrived in the U.S., he told us it was both exciting and overwhelming. He was taken by the grandeur of DFW International Airport and was, at the time, the only one in his family that spoke English.
At first, the simple things we take for granted were a challenge for the family. He says “the first top challenge was shopping groceries. Since we did not have a car or know how to take a bus, we walked to Walmart on a hot summer day and we would buy groceries that fit our strength. This wasn’t enough for eleven people in the house which led to buying groceries three days in a week”.
As they’ve settled in, Dusabamahoro came to appreciate even just the opportunity for a better life here. “My favorite thing about life here is how they provide numerous opportunities,” he says, “and that is the most important thing in life generally.”
Dusabamahoro recently graduated high school right here in North Texas (during a pandemic, no less) and is very much using that opportunity. He plans to attend Brigham Young University in the Fall and major in mechanical engineering.
Hagar says he fully expects to see Isaac take off, literally. “He wanted to learn English. Now he speaks the language fluently. He wanted to earn his high school diploma. He graduated this year with the class of 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, ” he says, “His next dream is to be a pilot. So, if I was a betting man, I would wager that Isaac will also fulfill his dream to fly”.
When asked what is one thing he’d like to tell people in the U.S. right now, he’s very apropos saying “It takes ages to see the outcome of the work you’ve done. Due to my experience, I think everyone should learn how to be resilient because life is a series of problems and you have to move on. Always remember that everything you do impacts so many lives even if you might not see that”.
As we continue to face a growing pandemic that is edging America’s working class to the brink of financial disaster, remembering that life is not a zero-sum game and that we can affect and improve each other’s life is yet another lesson we can learn from having people like Isaac and other refugees come and build a life in the U.S.
RST is continuing its mission to help refugees and asylum seekers establish lives here. Currently, the organization is in need of financial support for its COVID-19 emergency fund that helps its clients during the crisis. You can also learn about ways to volunteer and take their training at home.
To learn more about refugees in the U.S. and UNICEF USA, visit unicefusa.org