TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Several social service agencies in Tucson who assimilate refugees, say the number of refugees being resettled in Tucson has dropped nearly 80 percent.
The Lutheran Social Services has resettled as many as 200 refugees in one year. This year, it will barely top 50.
“So we’ve been able to bring about 15 percent of our expected arrivals to Tucson,” said Lorel Donaghey, the program director for Refugee and Immigration Services. “That’s mirrored with a little bit of variation across the country.”
The numbers are dwindling, in part, because of immigration policies issued by the Trump Administration. The latest is a rollback on the number of immigrants allowed to be resettled in the United States. The number has been reduced from 110,000 under the Obama Administration to 30,000 under new guidelines imposed by the White House. That’s the lowest number since the program began in 1980.
Nejra Sumic, an Arizona Refugee Organizer, fled war-torn Bosnia more than 20 years ago as a six-year-old child.
Her father was being held in a concentration camp, so she fled to Croatia, a journey which took several weeks.
The images still resonate.
“Seeing and witnessing people getting killed, people getting tortured,” she said “Being scared and fearing for your life.”
After a year in a refugee camp in Spain and being reunited with her father, they finally made it to the United States for resettlement.
Now a graduate from Arizona State University with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, she’s giving back with the National Partnership for New Americans.
“You can never forget,” she said. “But you move forward, you are looking forward to a brighter future and how you can make a difference in the world.”
However, because of the recent policies, making that difference is becoming more difficult.
It’s one reason she called on Tucson Mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, to bring attention to the issue, an issue which is personal to him.
“I think the reason this touches me so personally, I don’t have to go back very far,” he said. “My father-in-law and mother-in-law are Holocaust survivors and came to this country in 1950.”
According to Lutheran Social Services, 24 people every minute become displaced and are forced into refugee status.
“These are not people who are different from us,” Donaghey said. “They are us a generation or two removed.”
Refugees are not looking for a hand out, they are looking for a hand up according to social workers. They have to pay back the expenses it took to get them here, they are not eligible for most social benefits and they are required to work within weeks of arrival.
Donaghey says she has not laid anyone off because of a slackened work load, but the ripples are being felt throughout the community.
Apartment complexes which have relied on an influx of refugees are calling to ask where are the people they used to bring.
Employers who hired the refugees are also asking about potential workers.
Mayor Rothschild admits there is little he can do short of calling the Arizona Congressional delegation expressing concern.
“These are not large demands,” he said. “We are saying let’s allow who we know into the country, we want to have them here, they have earned the right to be here.”