Colorado's governor, refugees and the volunteers who help them recreate their lives marked World Refugee Day on Tuesday with a state Capitol celebration tempered by a dose of uncertainty.
Colorado's refugee arrivals are rapidly decreasing under a Trump administration order that more than halved the number of displaced people who are being allowed in the U.S. this year.
"Whatever else is happening, Colorado is here for you," Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told dozens of refugees and their supporters. "Colorado is going to remain a welcoming state."
Colorado has taken in more than 60,000 displaced people from around the globe since 1980, and had expected to settle 2,200 more during the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That was when President Barack Obama had set a ceiling of 110,000 refugee arrivals across the U.S.
After President Donald Trump cut that number to 50,000 this year, Colorado expects perhaps 50 to 60 percent of that 2,200 figure, said Kit Taintor, the state's refugee coordinator.
"I think that it's important to stress that this has long been a successful humanitarian program," Taintor said. "When people are given the opportunity to provide for their families, they take it and run with it. Kids enroll in school and are often at the top of their class. Over time, these families are buying homes."
In April alone, nearly 70 Colorado employers hired refugees. And over the years new arrivals — the vast majority of whom settle in metropolitan Denver — have created their own businesses or found work in light manufacturing, meatpacking, textiles and other sectors.
Colorado's totals since 2000 far outpace any other Rocky Mountain state, according to the U.S. State Department's Refugee Processing Center.
In 2016, the greatest number of refugees came to Colorado from strife-torn Burma, Iraq and Afghanistan. Others arrived with special immigrant visas, which are given, for example, to Iraqis who've served alongside the U.S. military in that country and thus are targets of reprisal there.
Federal court rulings have blocked Trump's executive orders suspending arrivals from certain majority Muslim nations. But the lower U.S. admissions numbers have disrupted a finely tuned, federally funded process that begins with exhaustive 18-month security screenings abroad.
For Colorado, Taintor says, a backlog has developed in which:
- Security clearances for several Colorado-bound refugees, including refugee minors who've lost their parents, have expired, forcing them to the back of the line. Colorado generally takes in 30 unaccompanied minors a year;
- Refugees who'd won U.S. approvals had to make way for people with pressing medical conditions;
- Volunteer agencies that find refugees housing, furniture, jobs, schools, language and culture programs, winter clothing and temporary living expenses don't know how many are coming, or when.
"The stars have to align within this very complicated system for anyone to move through it," Taintor said.
Ultimately, if the numbers keep declining, those agencies may cut their own staffing, said Taintor, whose own Colorado Refugee Services Program is funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. That federal office faces its own funding cut under a proposed Trump administration budget.
There are more than 63 million refugees worldwide, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
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