The federal government’s plan to further reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the country doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for them in Georgia, say local advocates.
That was the overwhelming message Saturday at a rally in Clarkston hosted by All Saints’ Refugee Ministries and Clarkston International Bible Church.
A State Department proposal released Thursday would put a cap on the number of refugees at 18,000 for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Of those refugee admissions spots, 5,000 would be set aside for persecuted religious minorities — reflecting President Donald Trump’s heightened focus on global religious freedom — and 1,500 would be set aside for nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who are seeking asylum in the United States in far greater numbers, according to The Associated Press.
Last year, the administration placed the cap at a record low of 30,000. Meanwhile, international relief groups have put the number of refugees worldwide at about 70.8 million. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 37,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution.
However, those staggering numbers also are seen as a factor in the need to curb the influx to the U.S. “This proposed ceiling takes into account the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis on our border and the massive asylum backlog, which now includes nearly one million individuals,” the White House said in a statement. “The overwhelming backlog is completely unsustainable and needs to be addressed before we accept large numbers of refugees.”
Although just showing up to the rally was a sign that people wanted to help refugees, the organizers implored that wasn’t enough.
“There is a solidarity for world relief here in Georgia,” said Louisa Merchant, director of All Saints’ Refugee Ministries. “We welcome everyone and we need everyone’s help to make this work. We are in the midst of the worse humantarian crisis since World War II.”
Merchant urged the 200 or so attendees to push legislators and other elected officials to support the GRACE Act, or Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement Act. It will set an annual refugee admissions floor of 95,000 — a number advocates say is crucial to preserving the state of the modern refugee resettlement program in the U.S.
Anamaliya, a woman who came to Georgia 23 years as a refugee told her story Saturday of fleeing genocide in her country. She’s written a book titled “Terrorized in Rwanda: Healed by Grace” to put a face on the issue.
“Nobody wants to be a refugee,” she said. “My heart breaks every day for the people waiting to be picked — sometimes it can take years. They spend years not knowing what will become of them, what will their lives be like.”
Although she is grateful to be safe from the atrocities of her native country, she said it was hard to pick up a new language, new customs and embrace a new land.
“I would chose to stay in my country and be like everyone else, but we are making our lives here. We work to become doctors and lawyers and citizens just like you.”
Joshua Sieweke, director of World Relief Atlanta, talked about how the organization went from 31 employees when he came aboard 20 years ago, to two starting Monday morning. Relying mainly on federal funding, the agency will retain staffers to give legal help. All other services will be taken care of by other local organizations.
Sieweke himself will be at the unemployment office seeking a new job.
“I’ll still love my neighbor, but my paycheck will have a different name on it,” he said.
He, too, encouraged the audience to find ways to give time and money toward refugee services.
“Compassion isn’t free,” he said. “Give a few hours to help a refugee learn English or donate a few dollars … Compassion won’t happen unless we pay the price.”
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