Guest opinion: Afghan refugees in urgent need
Tis the season of giving. It’s a time of sharing, caring and charitable giving. This year, I helped refugee families through the Gift of the Drummer Program at Catholic Community Services (CCS). I wanted to do what I could to help them build a new life in Utah. Buying a few gifts and household essentials is nice, but what would have a greater impact is a change in policy that would help our Afghan friends have the security they need to rebuild their lives.
I have worked for years with refugees in Utah. I felt drawn to the work after living with my husband and five children in Brazil for a couple of years. Although the circumstances were vastly different, there are still emotional similarities when moving to a new country. As a mother of five, I felt a very pressing need to feed and care for my family amid the fear of not knowing the language and culture. Amidst the challenging time of transitioning to a new life, we were able to build a support system from other expat families, families at school and church. Those who showed love and kindness to us in navigating a new culture and language meant the world to us.
On returning to Utah, I wanted to pay it forward and be that welcoming kind of person to others. I volunteered with CCS and helped a family of six originally from the Congo settle here. We helped to set up their first apartment and collected items from our neighbors. Sharing our beloved soccer shoes with a new family warmed my heart. I helped the parents navigate the bus so they could get to English classes and work. I later helped them navigate better paying jobs. I helped be the family liaison with the children’s school in helping them get uniforms and feeling settled. After several months, I worked to find improved housing that they could afford. It was a real challenge, but a joy to overload my small trailer and finally get them moved in. We all donned Santa Hats and as an extended family delivered Christmas including a tree so they could enjoy the beautiful holiday season in their new home. I worked with so many details of their life for over a year and it was a joy.
I further worked on helping refugees with the International Rescue Committee in legislation for H.B. 230 Refugee and Immigrant Student Policies Amendments and H.B. 302 Educational Language Services Amendments. I was thrilled that both passed and students would have improved enrollment in school and parents could communicate with a language they best understood. During one of the committee hearings, a senior in high school shared his story. He was put in the wrong grade because he did not have his birth certificate. He spoke of how his father buried their documents before he was killed. The student continued speaking with hope and gratitude in his voice as he shared that he was going to college. It was a rare time at the legislature that I witnessed the room burst into applause when he was done. His story should not be the only success story when it comes to refugees rebuilding their lives.
It is important to me that we care for humanitarian parolees from Afghanistan and continue to support them with federal legislation as they strive to build new, independent lives across the United States. The Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA) helps these families have the same legal status as refugees from other countries as they go through the same screening process. Currently, these families are only allowed to be in the U.S. for two years, which only gives most just a few months before their legal status expires. Without the AAA, they must go through the application process for asylum, which had a backlog of over 400,000 applicants.
Please write or call your member of congress and ask them to support the Afghan Adjustment Act (H.R. 8685/S.4787) in order to provide more permanent legal status than the humanitarian parole the current administration has provided. You can find resources to do so at https://www.congressweb.com/MWEG/4/. This holiday season, we can help them feel the peace of their new home.
Kristina Pexton is a resident of Centerville and a member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.