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Save refugee resettlement programs for benefit of all

The House of Representatives has proposed massive cuts in funding that would cripple the refugee assistance program locally and nationwide. These cuts would force programs to close, shutting the door on tens of thousands of people who no longer have a country and eliminating the minimal resources that enable new arrivals to become vibrant and productive members of their communities.

While it is clear budget cuts are needed -- even some that may be painful -- this level of reduction would be devastating and snip the thread of hope to which so many persecuted individuals cling.

More than 1,300 refugees were given protection, a fresh start and a new life here in Buffalo last year by the four resettlement provider agencies -- Catholic Charities, Journey's End Refugee Services, Jewish Family Service and the International Institute of Buffalo. These are individuals who meet the standard for a "well-founded fear of persecution" if forced to return to their homelands and are identified so by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The proposed cuts would impact humanitarian assistance programs in three funding areas. Up to 45 percent of funding to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Migration and Refugee Assistance and International Disaster Assistance would be gone.

As resettlement providers, we are committed to continuing our support for the refugees, but this work cannot be accomplished without strong support and financial follow-through on the part of the U.S. government.

Refugees are productive and reliable employees. They pay taxes, open businesses, rent apartments and buy cars and homes. When they settle in Buffalo, they contribute to our economy and soften the population loss this area has experienced in recent decades.

Since it is already five months into the fiscal year, cuts of this magnitude would basically shut down the refugee assistance program in this country and severely reduce refugee processing. These cuts will undermine our ability as a nation and local coalition of refugee resettlement providers to meet humanitarian obligations and protect refugees.

The bottom line: If the cuts are made, programs will close, refugees already here will lose services, refugees overseas will be stuck without food, water or security in camps, refugee processing will stop, jobs will be lost and families will not be reunited.

Let's do the right thing for humanity and our community -- support refugee assistance, not cut it. Senators and congress members must be contacted by phone or e-mail today and urged to save the refugee resettlement program from drastic cuts. For more information on how to help, go to ccwny.org.

Marlene A. Schillinger is president of Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County. Dennis C. Walczyk is chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Buffalo. This column also represents the opinion of Journey's End Refugee Services and the International Institute of Buffalo.

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