Today I’d like to discuss my decision to allow a limited number of refugees to relocate legally in Arkansas after they have been vetted and cleared by agencies of the United States. The refugees are coming here after suffering violence and religious persecution. Others are allowed in because they supported United States military forces, which puts them in danger.
Last year, President Trump issued an executive order that capped the number of refugees allowed into the United States at 18,000. His executive order returned to states the right to accept or refuse refugees. I applaud President Trump for recognizing the need to give state and local governments a greater role in the decision to relocate refugees. President Trump also tightened security checks to further minimize the risk that we would accept a refugee who might be a risk or might not assimilate to our American values.
It is important to understand who qualifies as a refugee. A refugee is not someone who crosses our borders illegally, or someone who enters our country and claims asylum. The refugees coming to America under this resettlement program often wait years for admission. The lives and history of these refugees are scrutinized more closely than any other category of immigrant.
The vetting includes biographic and interagency security checks; Homeland Security interviews; fingerprint scans; biometric security checks; and a medical exam. Once a refugee is approved, he or she goes through a cultural education program by the United States. Our agreement to allow refugees into Arkansas is not unlimited. This year, we expect to receive fewer than 50.
I decided to say yes to the refugees because it’s the right thing to do. The federal government and private contributions cover 100 percent of the cost of resettlement. The move doesn’t cost the state a dime. Most of the refugees come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African nations. A few came from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lusia and Kalulu Akilimali are refugees who left the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000 because of the civil war. They fled to Kenya, where they waited for 18 years to be resettled. While they waited, Lusia opened a small grocery store, and Kalulu planted a Baptist church. They adopted two orphaned Congolese children.
They were all resettled in Arkansas in 2018. Lusia has recently completed training as a Certified Nursing Assistant and is working at a senior care facility. Kalulu works for a manufacturing company in Springdale. Their oldest son attends Northwest Arkansas Community College and is hoping to transfer to the University next year to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering. They are active members of Cross Church in Springdale.
Homayoon Abdullah is a refugee who came here because for years in Afghanistan he worked with United States authorities at great risk to his life and that of his family. We did the right thing to welcome him.
I will always put the interests and safety of Arkansans first. I know we will benefit from the love for America that each refugee brings to our state.
Editor’s note: This commentary was provided by the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The opinions expressed are those of the author.