Report: Refugee resettlement program in jeopardy

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services didn’t wait to make its voice heard amid news that President Donald Trump’s administration might slash refugee admissions to zero next fiscal year.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to hear of the possibility that our nation’s refugee resettlement program could be eliminated,” wrote Chris Palusky, BCS President and CEO, in a statement released to media Friday. “America’s refugee program has a long-standing tradition of serving vulnerable families who are escaping religious persecution and violence, and we urge the administration to continue its support of this vitally important program.”

Bethany Christian’s statement was prompted by an article in Politico that revealed discussions between security officials at a meeting last week.  

According to unnamed sources in the article, an individual at the meeting, who is close to Trump’s immigration adviser, proposed setting the 2020 refugee cap at zero.

The U.S. Department of State refused to confirm the Politico report in response to an inquiry from 24 Hour News 8.

“Each year, the President makes an annual determination, after appropriate consultation with Congress, regarding the refugee admissions ceiling for the following Fiscal Year,” wrote a state department press officer in an email to 24 Hour News 8.

The spokesperson went on to say that the refugee cap determination is expected to be made prior to the start of Fiscal Year 2020, which is Oct. 1, 2019.

“We do not discuss internal and interagency deliberations or communications involved in such deliberations,” concluded the state department spokesperson.

Palusky said refugee admissions are already at historic lows: 30,000 admissions this year compared to a rough previous annual average of 95,000.

The agency said it’s resettled more than 7,400 refugees in Kent County since 2005 and expects to place 400 more in Grand Rapids this year.

“These are people like you and me,” Palusky said. “These are families that are just looking for a better life.”

Levis Hakundwa found that better life after fleeing devastating and deadly war in his native Congo as a child.

Hakundwa, now 30, arrived in West Michigan in 2011.

“Since I’ve been here, I continue my education. I completed my college. So now I have a wife. I have a child,” Hakundwa said in an interview Friday at Bethany Christian Services’ Refugee and Immigrant Services on 36th Street SE.

But there’s a piece still missing for Hakundwa.

“I’m here, but all my family members, my relatives are back there (in Africa).”

Hakundwa said they’re all in the process of making it to America.

“If they shut down (the resettlement process), there’s no way they can come here and join me here, which was my hope,” Hakundwa said.

24 Hour News 8 reached out to several Michigan members of Congress for comment on the Politico report, two of which replied.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters responded:

 “Communities across Michigan have benefited from welcoming people who have chosen to make our state their home. We should not close our door to innocent people who are fleeing civil war, religious persecution and violence and have completed a rigorous screening process. As Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I am committed to ensuring we do everything possible to keep Americans safe, but I’m concerned the President’s proposal runs counter to our nation’s values to serve as a beacon of hope for people around the world.”

U.S. Representative Bill Huizenga responded:

“It’s clear that immigration reform is something Congress and the President need to work together on. I think discussions that involve zeroing out the number of refugees coming to America, no matter how preliminary, are a step in the wrong direction. West Michigan has a strong history of welcoming refugees into our community and that should be viewed as a positive, not a negative.”

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