Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS) of Catholic Charites of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO), along with the other agencies that resettle refugees in this state, have been given the needed permission to continue doing so.
Governor Mike Parson on Dec. 30 signed a consent order for resettling refugees in the state, effective indefinitely unless or until withdrawn.
“I hereby consent to the resettlement of lawfully admitted refugees within the State of Missouri in the communities that request them, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations,” the governor wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Dec. 30.
Refugees are people seeking refuge in the United States, having been forcibly displaced from their homes due to political instability, violence and persecution. Economic hardship is not taken into account when determining U.S. refugee status.
Executive Order 13888, signed by President Donald Trump in September 2019, gives state and local governments a say in whether refugees may be resettled within their geographical boundaries.
Gov. Parson noted that nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri since 2002.
He pointed to St. Louis having one of the largest Bosnian populations outside that country itself, in light of refugees having settled there during a long and deadly civil war in the nations of the former Yugoslavia.
Four agencies resettle refugees in Missouri in five main areas. These agencies consist of CCCNMO in Columbia, Jewish Vocational Services and Della Lamb in Kansas City and International Institute in St. Louis and Springfield.
Most refugees in Missouri are resettled in and near these cities.
“State organizations and faith-based groups work tirelessly to support refugee resettlement,” the governor wrote. “... These groups do an excellent job of transitioning newly settled populations, ensuring they are educated, trained and prepared to assimilate into their new community.”
He pointed out that Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, “dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders and missionaries.”
“Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of former refugees who have become vital members of our communities,” he stated, adding that they have helped strengthen local economies, especially through entrepreneurship.
“Community volunteers, especially faith-based partners, continue to be an integral part of such local resettlement efforts,” he wrote.
He said Missourians will continue to work hard to ensure that refugees become a thriving part of the state’s communities.
“I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these (refugees) becoming patriotic and productive fellow Americans,” he stated.
Also on Dec. 30, the Boone County Commission gave permission for refugees to be resettled in the Columbia vicinity.
“This is excellent news,” said CCCNMO Executive Director Daniel Lester. “This allows us to continue this important work of mercy and charity in partnership with faith groups throughout the area.”
CCCNMO receives referrals for refugee resettlement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) in Washington, D.C., which contracts with the U.S. State Department to resettle approved U.S. refugee cases.
Many refugees arrive here with little or no money or command of American culture and the English language.
Catholic Charities’ RIS has been resettling refugees in the Jefferson City Diocese since 1975 during the Vietnam War.
The RIS staff includes former refugees who themselves have been resettled.
With donations and assistance from other local congregations and community individuals, RIS ensures that arriving refugees have furnished housing, food, and intensive case management throughout their beginning months of resettlement.
This includes school enrollments, English classes, driver’s training, job assistance, health checkups and many other services needed to become self-sufficient and integrated into their new society.
RIS resettled 92 refugees in 2019 and anticipates resettling between 75 and 90 this year.
Regardless of the refugees’ nation of origin, they are subject to thorough security checks through the U.S. State Department before being cleared for resettlement.
The State Department and USCCB take many things into account when deciding which partner agency to assign an approved refugee case. Among these factors are access to resources, the presence of other people from the same area as the refugee, and the total number of refugees the U.S. government allows to enter the country in a given year.
The projected total of 18,000 refugee resettlements in 2020 is the lowest since the inception of the federal refugee program.
“USCCB will still need to determine where it is that they want to send refugees in their network,” said Mr. Lester. “But if they decide to send 85 to CCCNMO, we are legally clear to be able to do that.”
Mr. Lester called the governor’s action “a big win” for people and agencies that help refugees.
“We’re excited to have it,” he added.
“Sends a great message”
In a letter to the U.S. State Department, Boone County Presiding Commissioner Daniel K. Atwill noted that refugee resettlement has been occurring in Boone County for several decades.
Mr. Lester noted that the majority of the resettlement work in central and northern Missouri is in Boone County, which is why it was important to receive the consent resolution from the Boone County Commission.
“But it’s important to note that if our local officials — say, the Boone County Commission — had issued their consent letter and Gov. Parson had not, that would make the local consent null and void,” said Mr. Lester.
In the meantime, RIS has all of the resources it needs to remain busy resettling refugees and getting them the ongoing help they need to become happy, productive members of society.
Mr. Lester hopes that as more states and local jurisdictions submit consent letters to the State Department, federal policymakers and the President will recognize strong, bipartisan support for refugee resettlement in this country.
“So that means maybe the ceiling need not be as low as the federal government has it currently set at,” Mr. Lester said. “This sends a great message that we see state government from both parties are willing to continue to do this — they see the value that refugees continue to bring to their state and their communities.”
The Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency of the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses, applauded the governor’s decision.
“The U.S. refugee resettlement program plays a vital role in helping foreign nationals who hold a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries to find refuge and start a new life with their families,” the MCC stated. “In many cases, these refugees face persecution due to their religious beliefs or their political views.”
The MCC noted that as new U.S. residents, resettled refugees bring fresh perspectives and help revitalize local economies and communities.
Furthermore, “as Catholics, we are called to welcome the stranger, and we work through our charitable agencies to help refugees find a new place to call home,” the MCC stated. “We thank Governor Parson for agreeing to continue the proud tradition of refugee resettlement in Missouri.”
National Migration Week
These developments happened to take place right before Catholics in the United States observe National Migration Week, Jan. 15-11.
The theme for this year’s observance is “Promoting a Church and a World for All,” and reflects the Church as a welcoming place for all God’s children.
“National Migration Week is an opportunity for the Church to unite prayerfully and live out the Holy Father’s vision to welcome immigrants and refugees into our communities and to provide opportunities that will help them and all people of good will to thrive,” stated Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Migration.
He noted that there are currently more than 70 million refugees worldwide.
Pope Francis has challenged people to move from a culture of “indifference” to a culture of solidarity, which will help them to embrace the poor and marginalized, along with those struggling to find a better life.
“As a founding principle of our country, we have always welcomed immigrant and refugee populations, and through the social services and good works of the Church, we have accompanied our brothers and sisters in integrating to daily American life,” Bishop Dorsonville stated.