As a former refugee who has found home here in Durham, I consider myself as one of the lucky ones whose life was saved thanks to America’s generosity. Sadly, over the past two years, the Trump administration has made drastic changes to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, resulting in loss of life and family separation. I urge my representative, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-1st), to hold the administration accountable to resettling refugees in 2019 and beyond.
Resettlement is the last resort for refugees like me — people who have been persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group — who cannot return to their home country or rebuild their lives in the country where they first fled.
My family and I became refugees during the 2004 war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We fled to Burundi, but my hope was to one day go back to my country and resume my life because it was the place where I owned a house, had a good job, a great life, and wanted to continue my education. However, little did I know that this was just a dream because my family and I could not go back to our old life due to the war and persecution.
After undergoing multiple interviews and background checks, biometric scans, and security screenings conducted by the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, FBI, and National Counterterrorism Center, my family and I were invited for resettlement in the United States.
Coming to the U.S. gave us hope of a new beginning, a place to call home, and a dream for a bright future for our children. I am grateful to Church World Service (CWS) for helping us resettle in Durham. CWS helped my family with our struggles when we first came, and they still help us with employment and schools for my children, who now speak English like natives. Our case worker, Samantha, was like a sister to me and made my life easy.
I now give back to CWS and to the community by helping as a volunteer, babysitting for new refugee mothers so they can learn English. As a refugee leader, I participate in CWS’s advocacy work to inform the community about refugees and their struggles. We share our stories, and this helps build bridges between us, refugees, and the community.
Unfortunately, many other refugees won’t have this chance. Following executive orders that suspended all refugee resettlement for months, the administration has set refugee admissions numbers at historic lows. Last year, the administration failed to meet even half of its own 45,000 admissions number. This year, the president set that number at an all-time low of 30,000.
With less than 10,000 refugees resettled in the first half of the fiscal year, the administration is once again failing to meet even its own low goal. I worry about those left in harm’s way that we failed to protect and broke our promise to. No one chooses to become a refugee; it is therefore critical that the administration resettles every one of those 30,000 refugees in FY 2019. There is absolutely no reason why this low number cannot be met, as the U.S. has admitted, on average, 80,000 refugees each year since 1980.
Congressman Butterfield should support more refugees coming to the community by co-sponsoring the GRACE ACT. This legislation would set a minimum refugee admissions goal at 95,000 (the historic average since 1980). In addition, I encourage him support the NO BAN Act, which would end the harmful refugee, Muslim, and asylum bans put in place by this administration and establish vital protections against future discriminatory bans.
Durham and North Carolina welcome refugees like family. We are hardworking people who love our new home. I hope Congress shares that spirit of welcome as well.
Esther Nasuku is a former refugee from the Congo DRC who has lived in Durham since 2015.