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Elimination of refugee resettlement concerns area leaders

Total of 36 West Michigan employers release joint letter urging U.S. government to reconsider cutting or eliminating programs.

September 27, 2019
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Chris Palusky
Bethany CEO Chris Palusky met with government officials earlier this month to voice concerns about potential changes to the Refugee Resettlement Program. Courtesy Bethany Christian Services

Employers in Grand Rapids are partnering with Bethany Christian Services to assist refugees.

A total of 36 West Michigan employers, who are a part of a network of roughly 500 employers that partner with Bethany’s Refugee Employment program, signed a letter that underlines the importance of refugees in the region and the contributions they have made to the local workforce.

The letter comes after concerns arose about the possible end of the federal government’s Refugee Resettlement Program. According to Politico, the Trump administration is considering lowering the number of refugees entering the country to between zero and 10,000.

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is one of the employers that support the advocacy of the Refugee Resettlement Program.

“Grand Rapids has experienced tremendous economic growth over the past decade and embracing refugees has certainly played a role in the area’s development,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber. “By continuing to welcome refugees, our community can be further enriched by the unique culture, knowledge and skills they bring to our businesses and neighborhoods. West Michigan employers want to continue hiring refugees.”

In addition to the letter, per Beth Caldwell, associate director of refugee and immigrant services at Bethany, Bethany President and CEO Chris Palusky met with government officials earlier this month to talk about his concern regarding the threat of the Refugee Resettlement Program being limited or being terminated.

“Stopping the resettlement of refugees would be an incredible loss to West Michigan communities,” Palusky said. “These are hardworking men and women with unique skills sought after by employers.”

He added, since 2009, local businesses have hired over 5,000 refugees in partnership with Bethany, and they are asking to hire more.

“Refugees work hard, start businesses and give back to their neighborhoods. West Michigan has benefited greatly as a welcoming community for refugees,” Palusky said.

Caldwell said this year, Michigan is expected to resettle about 400 refugees just in the Grand Rapids area and over 7,400 refugees have resettled in Kent County since 2005.

“The number right now of people in the world that have been forcibly displaced is 70 million,” she said. “Those are people from many different countries who are unable to reenter their countries due to violence, war, persecution, particularly if they are a part of a group that is targeted by folks that are in their countries. We primarily in our program resettle folks that are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma (Myanmar). The situation really does vary, but the number has been at an all-time high for people who have been displaced from their countries.”

While the number of refugees fleeing their countries has increased, the number of refugees who are being welcomed in the U.S. has decreased.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the number of refugees who were welcomed in the U.S. over the last five years are as follows:

  • 2018 - 22,491 refugees (majority of which were from Africa)

  • 2017 - 53,716 refugees (majority of which were from near east and south Asia)

  • 2016 - 84,994 refugees (majority came from near east and south Asia)

  • 2015 - 69,933 refugees (majority were from near east and south Asia)

  • 2014 - 69,987 refugees (majority were from near east and south Asia)

Allison Preston-Smith, spokesperson for Bethany Christian Services, said 30,000 refugees are expected to be welcomed to the U.S. this year. 

“Since the Refugee Resettlement Program was established under President Reagan, the U.S. typically welcomes roughly 95,000 refugees on average,” she said.

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