The refugee process is complicated and confusing, even for people entrenched in this work. That, coupled with rumor, may cause people to question this work. We have complied a list of answers to questions below that you might have.  

 Why does Catholic Charities do this work? 
Are refugees a threat to our country?
What if a refugee becomes a threat? 
What's the process for refugees to become approved to come to the United States? 
How is the refugee process different in the United States from Europe?
Who is a refugee? 
Why do refugees leave their countries?
How are refugees different from immigrants?
When did Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge start resettling refugees in Baton Rouge?
What is Catholic Charities role in refugee resettlement?
How many refugees has CCDBR resettled?
What agencies provide resettlement services to refugees in Louisiana?
Who funds Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program and what does it pay for?
Do refugees have to repay the government for these services?
Does CCDBR profit off refugee loan repayment?
How long can refugees stay in the US?
Can refugees go back home?
Can a refugee come into Baton Rouge and leave? What happens when they do?
Where can I see the data for myself?
Don’t more refugees live in the United States than any other country in the world?
What rights do refugees have?
Are refugees an economic drain on the community?
Are refugees allowed to work?
What types of jobs do refugees get?
Do refugees pay taxes?
Are there medical conditions that exclude refugees from coming to the US?
How can I help?
Where can I get more information? 

Why does Catholic Charities do this work?

The Catholic Church has a long-standing tradition of helping refugees and immigrants as a matter of human rights. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to "provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, implores us to remember the Golden Rule and help refugees rather than view them as a problem: “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. … We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).   (Speech to U.S. Congress, 9/24/15)

Read Bishop Muench's statement here. 

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Are refugees a threat to our country?

None of the 3 million accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States, according to an analysis of terrorism immigration risks by the Cato Institute. Before the rigorous screening started in 1980, three refugees successfully carried out terrorist attacks; all three were Cuban refugees, and a total of three people were killed. No refugees were involved in the 9/11 attacks.

The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year.  In your lifetime, the odds of being struck by lightening are 1 in 12,000. Your chances of being killed by a gun … 1 in 25,000.

Regarding Syrians, it is important to note that the Department of Homeland Security reports that there are no known, credible threats of ISIS being embedded in Syrian refugees scheduled to come to the U.S.

The US process for screening and accepting refugees is vastly different than that of Europe in several ways. Foremost, an ocean separates our country from the regions refugees immigrate from. Because of this, the  United States handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and they go through multiple layers of interviews and security checks, making them the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. This U.S. State Department graphic illustrates the multi-step vetting process that all refugees must pass through before being admitted into the country. More information on the government’s rigorous screening process can be found here: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/ten-facts-about-us-refugee-resettlement

Other references:

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What if a refugee becomes a threat?

CCDBR has been resettling refugees for more than 50 years, and our experience is consistent with the rest of the nation; refugees add value to our social and economic life.  We too, are concerned for the safety of our community and would report any suspicious activity … should that be necessary.  We work closely with multiple state agencies, including law officials, on the state wide Refugee Advisory Committee.

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What’s the process for refugees to become approved to come to the United States?

First, refugees leave behind most of their personal belongs and flee to a second country, usually to a refugee camp. There, potential refugees apply for refugee status through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the international body in charge of protecting and assisting refugees. If they determine that all criteria for “refugee status” is met, the applicant is referred for resettlement in a third country, such as the United States. The rigorous screening process begins.

The US process for screening and accepting refugees is vastly different than that of Europe in several ways. Foremost, an ocean separates our country from the regions refugees immigrate from. Because of this, the  United States handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and they go through multiple layers of interviews and security checks, making them the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. This U.S. State Department graphic illustrates the multi-step vetting process that all refugees must pass through before being admitted into the country. More information on the government’s rigorous screening process can be found here: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/ten-facts-about-us-refugee-resettlement

For the lucky ones, the process could takes about two years. However many applicants languish in refugee camps for decades. Refugees from some countries, such as Syria, have an additional layer of checks and can take significantly longer because of security concerns and difficulties in verifying their information.

Have terrorists slipped through despite the rigorous screening process? None of the 3 million accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States, according to an analysis of terrorism immigration risks by the Cato Institute. Before the rigorous screening started in 1980, three refugees successfully carried out terrorist attacks; all three were Cuban refugees, and a total of three people were killed. No refugees were involved in the 9/11 attacks.

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How is the refugee process different in the United States from Europe?

The European refugee admission system is dramatically different from the U.S. system, in large part because the U.S. is geographically separated from most of the countries from which the refugees originate. The U.S. does far more vetting before refugees arrive than Europe. Also unlike Europe, security officials say the US’ formal assimilation program helps protect America. Our process works. Since it was overhauled in 1980, no refugees have been implicated in a terrorist attack. 

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Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. Most likely, they cannot return home without fear
 of death. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. They are admitted to the US only after security clearances are passed and refugee status granted.

By the end of 2015, 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide--5.8 million more than the previous year. Over half were children. A record-breaking 2 million people applied for asylum or refugee status in 157 countries or territories during 2015. Over 3 million were waiting for a decision. According to government statistics, countries around the world admitted 107,100 refugees for resettlement. Of those, the United States accepted 62% (66,500) or about 1% of the millions displaced worldwide. Congo accounted for 16,370 refugees followed by Syria (12,587), Burma (aka Myanmar, with 12,347), Iraq (9,880) and Somalia (9,020). Over the past decade, the largest numbers of refugees have come from Burma (159,692) and Iraq (135,643).

They are moms, dads, children, grandparents, business owners, your neighbor, & students, with the same hopes and dreams Americans have. They want to live in safety, worship without fear and support their families.

Refugees are people like Catherine Clarke who works as a housekeeper at an LSU sorority house. She and her oldest son moved to the United States in 2006 after fleeing civil war in Liberia and living in refugee camps in Ghana and Ivory Coast leaving other two sons behind with family members. With the help of Catholic Charities, she reunited with her youngest son Benjamin in 2016. Read their story here.

More reading: Riegel: The face of Syrian refugees in Baton Rouge, by Stephanie Riegel, Baton Rouge Business Report, February 1, 2017

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Why do refugees leave their countries?

One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. On average 24 people worldwide were displaced from their homes every minute of every day during 2015 – some 34,000 people per day.

Refugees leave their homes and their country because they have no other choice. They are forced out by factors such as war, persecution, natural disasters, environmental crises and poverty. They may also leave because their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses or meet their needs. Whatever the reason, refugees leave their homes because they fear for their own life or safety, or that of their family.

Many refugees leave their homes suddenly and are able to take very few if any of their possessions with them. Sometimes they face many days of travel, with little food and in fear of their lives. If they do get to safety, they then rely on the people living in the area they have fled to; these people often have few resources to share and may not welcome the new arrivals.

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How are refugees different from immigrants?

Immigrants choose to leave his or her country to settle in another, usually to be near family, attend college or for work. They can return to their homeland at any time. Refugees, however, are forced to leave their country due to fear of persecution caused by war, violence, political instability, aggression or because of their religion, beliefs, caste, or political opinion. In most cases, it is not possible for them to go back to their country. Learn more here. 

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When did Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge start resettling refugees in Baton Rouge?

CCDBR started working with Cuban immigrants almost as soon as our diocese was formed in 1964. In 1974, a fully functioning program ramped up to meet the needs following the Fall of Vietnam.  The program was to remain active for two years only, but today these services continue.

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What is Catholic Charities role in refugee resettlement?

Since 1976, Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program has helped hundreds of refugees settle into our area. No matter the country of origin, refugees face incredible cultural challenges throughout the resettlement process. Many of the minor conveniences that we take for granted can create huge obstacles for the refugee. Assimilation into a fast-paced and technology-based culture can be daunting for some.

“Walking with” refugee families during the early stages of resettlement can lessen their anxiety and foster newfound confidence in adapting to a new homeland. Catholic Charities staff help meet these many needs by securing housing, furniture, household goods, food and clothing because the refugees coming to America arrive empty-handed, carrying with them only a few personal possessions.

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How many refugees has CCDBR resettled? 

Since 2002, CCDBR has resettled 1,500 refugees in the Baton Rouge area. Top countries of origin included Burma, Iraq and Somalia. Since October 1, 2016, CCDBR resettled 20 refugees from overseas and 21 Cubans.

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What agencies provide resettlement services to refugees in Louisiana?

Catholic Charities in Lafayette, New Orleans and Baton Rouge under the supervision of the Louisiana Office of Refugees.

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Who funds Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program and what does it pay for?

Last year, federal funding covered 89% of the program expenses. The remaining 11% in revenue originated from cash donations and other in-kind support. The program costs include personnel and costs associated with running the program and support services for refugees. In addition, we receive about $1,850 per refugee person to pay their rent, food and housing set up for the first 3 months.

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Do refugees have to repay the government for these services?

Refugees traveling to the United States are issued interest-free loans averaging $2,500 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to pay for the costs of their transportation to the U.S. and for various medical screening costs. Every refugee over 18 years old signs a promissory note prior to arrival in the U.S and generally begins to make payments after the first six months of arrival. Under the agreement, refugees have to agree to pay back the loan within 42 months, and the average monthly payment is $85, says the State Department. The average loan amount for each refugee is $1,200, and the average number of people in a refugee family is 2.1, making the average loan note for U.S.-bound refugees $2,500.

More info: A BRIEF HISTORY OF REFUGEES PAYING BACK THE U.S. GOVERNMENT FOR THEIR TRAVEL, Newsweek, by Lucy Westcott, 12/12/15

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Does CCDBR profit off refugee loan repayment?

No, CCDBR does not collect loan payments.

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How long can refugees stay in the US?

Refugees may stay in the US indefinitely. They are provided with a pathway to citizenship and usually can apply within five years.

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Can refugees go back home?

Refugees have freedom of movement. However, if they return to their home country they may jeopardize their refugee status. Refugees must apply for a Refugee Travel Document through Immigration to travel outside of the U.S. During 2015, only 201,400 refugees returned to their countries of origin.

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Can a refugee come into Baton Rouge and leave?  What happens when they do?

Yes.  At times, refugees choose to leave the Baton Rouge area to reunite with family members living in another state. Such cases are referred to as “out migration.” If done soon after arrival, their case is transferred to another resettlement office. Their movements are tracked.

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Where can I see the data for myself?

People all around the world use WRAPS (Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System) to process and track the movement of refugees from various countries to the U.S. The Refugee Processing Center (RPC) provides the technical and functional support for WRAPS so that it is accessible, current and easy to use. RPC is operated by the U.S Department of State (DOS) Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

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Don’t more refugees live in the United States than any other country in the world?

In 2015, 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide--5.8 million more than the previous year. Twenty-one million people met the criteria to receive the refugee label. Turkey became the largest refugee-hosting country worldwide, with 2.5 million refugees, followed by Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), the Islamic Republic of Iran (1.0 million), Ethiopia and Jordan (0.7 million each). A majority of the refugees came the Syrian Arab Republic (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million). Resettlement to the U.S. is available only for those who demonstrate the greatest and most immediate need for protection and takes place after eligible refugees undergo a rigorous security vetting and medical screening process. In 2015, the United States accepted 66,500 or about 1% of the millions displaced worldwide.

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What rights do refugees have?

Refugees have the same rights and responsibilities as US citizens. However, they cannot vote until they become a citizen, and they cannot hold certain elected offices.

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Are refugees an economic drain on the community?

The economic impact of refugees on local communities is very small. Refugee Resettlement is a federal program designed to host temporarily refugee families while they transition to self-sufficiency. Because the program is only partially funded by the government, CCDBR depends on local volunteers, in-kind support, and cash donations. Last year, Federal funding covered 89% of the program expenses. The remaining 11% was funded by cash donations and other in-kind support.

More information: What’s the economic impact of refugees in America?, by Paul Solman, PBS, April 7, 2016

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Are refugees allowed to work?

Yes, in fact refugees are encouraged to be employed. CCDBR Employment Counselors connect them to training programs and eager-to-hire employers.  Refugees are ideal for entry and mid-level job placement in all business sectors. Employers say refugees are dependable, responsible and have high job retention rates.

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What types of jobs do refugees get?

Due to language barriers — or professional skills that do not easily transfer to the US job market — many refugees start out in entry-level jobs while they are working on their language skills or other job-related certification. Refugees are required to take the first job that becomes available to them. Many, however, come with advanced degrees and skills and quickly work their way up!

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Do refugees pay taxes?

Yes, when refugees start working, they start paying into the tax system.

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Are there medical conditions that exclude refugees from coming to the US?

Yes, there are certain medical conditions that are excludable. These include active (not positive) TB, extreme mental retardation, and Hansen’s disease. Furthermore, CCDBR has the ability to reject any refugee whose needs are beyond our capacity to meet.

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How can I help?

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Where can I get more information?

Welcoming America

USCCB Justice for Immigrants

US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Office of Homeland Security Immigration Data & Statistics

United Nations High Council for Refugees

USCCB Migration & Refugee Services

US Administration for Children and Families Office of Refugee Resettlement

Pew Research Center

City Makers: American Futures, James and Deborah Fallows, The Atlantic

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