Three members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation oppose certification by the U.S. Department of State that would allow refugees from the Middle East, Africa and other countries to settle in Northwest Arkansas.
Canopy Northwest Arkansas received final approval from the State Department on Sept. 30 and is waiting for the assignment of its first refugee family, which could come as early as mid-November.
Canopy partners with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), one of nine national resettlement agencies that contract with the State Department to run the refugee resettlement program. LIRS is the agency that will assign refugees to Canopy after the refugees go through an extensive screening process, sometimes lasting more than two years.
Over the course of the coming year, Emily Crane Linn, resettlement director at Canopy, said they expect to settle 20 to 25 families in Northwest Arkansas.
Linn said in a recent Talk Business & Politics story that the LIRS projects the biggest population of refugees that will come into the United States in the coming year, and so possibly will be settled here, is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second most common population, she said, will be people from Iraq and Afghanistan who worked for the United States Armed Forces in such jobs as translators or drivers. Because of their service, they are in danger in their country and so they can be resettled here. The third group is Syrians, fleeing the war in their country.
It is the Syrian refugee possibility that caused U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, to send a letter dated Oct. 24 to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to “express our concern” about the resettlement program. (Link here for a PDF of the letter.)
In the letter, the Representatives referred to an Oct. 21, 2015, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee meeting during which FBI Director James Comey said the agency could not “offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with” admitting Syrian refugees.
The letter also criticized the Obama Administration for bringing in refugees with “little-to-no” coordination with state governments, “leaving governors often unaware of whom is being resettled in their state until after the fact.”
“Although we are grateful for the heart behind Canopy NWA and the welcoming spirit that is a mark of Arkansans, we are gravely concerned with the vetting process as it stands, as well as the lack of coordination between the Department of State and the actual states resettling refugees,” the Representatives noted in the letter. “Congressional oversight has revealed weaknesses in our vetting process and agency concerns with vulnerability to terrorist targeting, and nonetheless, the Administration has moved forward with resettlement in concerned communities. As representatives of the people of Arkansas, we cannot support a program that brings refugees into our nation who could pose a national security threat.”
After being notified of the Congressional letter, Linn sent this statement to Talk Business & Politics: “We affirm the importance of keeping Arkansas safe for Arkansans and we are grateful that our elected leaders are looking out for the safety and well-being of our community. As their constituents, we expect nothing less.
“Canopy NWA accepts referrals from the State Department but does not determine refugee country of origin nor does it have a role in the admissions or vetting process. As such, we support the most stringent, secure vetting process possible. We encourage our elected officials to continue to work with the State Department in ensuring that the admissions process is thorough and complete. Canopy has been in contact with Congressman Womack and his staff during this process and we have requested a follow up meeting so that we may continue to work together on these issues.
“Canopy has and will continue to work closely with members of the community, our local and state government and our elected officials to ensure the continued safety and prosperity of all Arkansans – both old and new.”
Officials with Canopy met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this year to update him on the program.