Point of view: Stitt continues Oklahoma Standard for families in need
I applaud Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recent formal consent to continue refugee resettlement within Oklahoma. Stitt is among 42 governors — 19 Republicans and 23 Democrats — who have consented so far to helping these families. Bipartisan support has been a hallmark of the program for more than 40 years, including recent support from county commissioners in Oklahoma, Texas and Tulsa counties.
The governor’s decision allows a well-regulated and established humanitarian program to continue the resettlement of carefully screened overseas refugees into the United States. It does not usher in new populations and programs.
These refugees often are Christians fleeing religious persecution and, in some cases, Muslim families facing genocide and persecution in Myanmar (Burma). In one Oklahoma City case, Catholic Charities welcomed a Muslim family from Burma that was further assisted by friends and supporters at Temple B’nai Israel. Believers of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith traditions came together in a real-world demonstration of the best in U.S. and Oklahoma values.
Refugees are individuals forced to flee their country due to war or violence and unable to safely return. They are not illegal or undocumented immigrants. Many countries, including the United States, operate resettlement programs, allowing some of the most vulnerable refugees to relocate from their country of asylum to a third country where they can permanently resettle and rebuild their lives.
All refugees are immigrants; most immigrants are not refugees. All U.S.-bound refugee arrivals are thoroughly vetted (retinal scans, fingerprints, DNA swabs, multiple in-person interviews, 3-D holographic document scans and more) prior to being allowed in lawfully and intentionally by the U.S. government (State Department, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services).
As a local resettlement agency, Catholic Charities plays no role in determining who comes through this program and where they are resettled. Catholic Charities’ work begins once refugees arrive. We assist with airport reception, helping secure housing, school enrollment (if applicable), government identification and their public health screening.
Refugee resettlement has economically and culturally enriched Oklahoma. For instance, 95% of the arriving refugees in Tulsa last summer found full-time employment within 90 days. Oklahoma City’s Vietnamese business owners (many tied to refugee arrivals in the 1970s) have a considerable economic impact with an estimated 2,324 businesses, sales in excess of $225 million, more than 1,500 paid staff and more than $29 million in annual payroll.
When Catholic Charities does this important work to help those in need, it represents the values on which our nation was built. Thanks again to Gov. Stitt for representing the Oklahoma Standard by allowing refugees to arrive, thrive and contribute culturally and economically to our great state.
Raglow is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.