Saturday, June 28, 2014

Waiting on Wyoming-Again!

Wyoming is the only state not participating in the Refugee Resettlement Program. Forty-nine other states are helping our government meet the needs of refugees from all over the world. Why not Wyoming?

The governor’s reluctance to proceed probably has to do with the reaction last spring when he made the suggestion that Wyoming join the other states. The trolls came out enforce suggesting Mead had forfeited his conservative credentials.

Milder comments included, “Anyone bringing in moslem (sic) future jihadi should not be leaders of anything” and “we don’t need WETBACKS in the US. We need EDUCATED PEOPLE, not people who are here to take taxpayer’s money.” Others were, as the governor pointed out, even more racist.

Mead called out the racists, saying they don’t reflect Wyoming values, adding, “Let’s not have the debate in terms none of us would be proud of.” Amen.

However, the best response to their ignorance would be to immediately implement the program. If forty-nine other governors from Red, Blue, and Purple states, have signed on, how much more study is required?

A recent article in “The Wyoming Lawyer,” a publication of the Wyoming State Bar Association, UW law professor Suzan Pritchett points out that even without our participation, refugees are coming to Wyoming. But they’re coming to a state that doesn’t have the framework in place to provide them with the assistance necessary to access health care, job training language training, or housing.

The other states are prepared to meet those needs with access to federal grants for helping refugees become successful, contributing citizens.

Part of the political problem is the unwillingness of some to understand the difference between undocumented immigrants and refugees. As Professor Pritchett explains, “Refugees have been forced to flee their countries because of persecution …and because their governments are unable or unwilling to protect them.

“Migrants, on the other hand, voluntarily choose to leave their countries for a variety of reasons including work, study, and family unification.”

Federal law imposes a high level of scrutiny including medical examinations, security clearances, and background checks on those claiming to be refugees before they become eligible for participation.

Relocating refugees is not simply an act of charity. Most refugees are bright, motivated people who have the ability to improve our lives as well as their own. Manal Elzeen’s story is told on the Office of Refugee Resettlement website. Manal and her family left Sudan to seek asylum in the U.S. She became certified, meeting basic health and safety requirements for child care and immediately began caring for children.  “She decided she wanted to go beyond certification and meet the additional requirements for licensing which includes getting a Child Development Associate credential.”

Bertine Bahige took a long, winding road to Wyoming after arriving in Washington DC, learning English and working at a Burger King. The Casper Star-Tribune told the story about how he “hid under his bed while gunshots echoed throughout his hometown of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He watched a rebel smack his mother unconscious with the butt of a gun.
“Rebel groups fleeing Rwanda invaded the DRC in the years after the 1994 genocide. They were looking for child soldiers and shares of the country’s mineral wealth. They kidnapped 13-year-old Bertine and one of his sisters in 1996. He hasn’t seen his mother or nine siblings since.”
For two years he was forced to serve as a child soldier before escaping and eventually coming to America. He received a scholarship from the University of Wyoming and has become a math teacher in Gillette.

Joining forty-nine other states to provide coordinated services to folks like Manal and Bertine might not make the governor very popular among far-right Republicans. They aren’t going to vote for him anyway.

Americans are still haunted that when we refused to allow 1000 Jewish refugees to enter the country on the SS St. Louis in 1939, a quarter of the passengers died in concentration camps. Maybe this is an opportunity to atone.

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