Anxious And Weary, Refugees In The Triad Wait To Reunite With Family

Oct 31, 2019

Dative, a Congolese refugee, is at her Greensboro home on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The proposed refugee acceptance cap is set for 18,000, making it the lowest acceptance cap in history. This has refugees like Dative, a mother of four from the Congo, worried she may never see her nephew and niece arrive.
Credit Lynn Hey / For WUNC

Dative takes pride in showing off her five bedroom, three-bathroom home in Greensboro, especially the two rooms she has set up for her teenage niece and nephew.

In one bedroom, there’s a large wooden bunk bed surrounded by college textbooks and sports paraphernalia. In another, there’s a trundle bed, neatly made up with a bright, multi-colored striped comforter.

It’s all for her niece and nephew, who are still in a refugee camp in Uganda.

"I hope they come soon. I'll be very happy," Dative said.

Every year, the executive branch sets a cap for how many refugees will be admitted into the country. That number fluctuates based on world events. In the final years of the Obama administration, the number rose steadily until it hit 110,000 in 2017.

In September, President Donald Trump slashed the refugee cap to just 18,000 for 2020.

As a result, travel to the U.S. is at a halt. The International Organization for Migration and the Federal Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration are waiting to see if Trump's cap is going to be confirmed by Congress.

That means refugees like Dative’s family members are in limbo. They have passed their security screenings and have been cleared for resettlement, but their chances of being reunited in America seem slimmer than ever before.

Congolese refugee Dative sits in her Greenboro, N.C., home on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. She worries the proposed refugee acceptance cap set for 18,000 people means she may never see her nephew and niece make it to the U.S.
Credit Lynn Hey / For WUNC

Dative's Journey To The U.S.

Dative is her middle name. She doesn’t want to give her first or last name because she believes it may hurt her chances of reuniting her family.

Dative is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She fled with her four children to Uganda in 2009 after years of political instability led to violent uprisings. She worked a number of different jobs to make sure her children were fed.

"Sometimes we only ate popcorn because we didn't have food," said her daughter, Matutina. "That was really rough because mom was trying to make sure we kept up with school to make sure we didn’t leave from school, but then she's selling shoes and sambusas to get money for both school and food."

Her other daughter Grace also remembers her mother's sacrifices.

"It was really hard for her," she said. "She was working so hard to keep up with the interviews for immigration."

There are a lot of people here that are fearful even if they're here as refugees with a legal documented status. They're still fearful that they could be sent back home or more importantly that their loved ones might not be able to join them here. -Megan Shepard

Eventually, Dative and her children were able to legally emigrate to the U.S. They've been here for seven years and Dative is now an American citizen.

Her children are all in school and some are working. Her house in Greensboro has wood floors throughout and paintings of their home and family photos hang on the wall.

Dative said she wants the same life opportunities for her niece and nephew. Both of their parents died, and they're in Uganda with no family. Dative says she's been scammed out of money numerous times in her ongoing effort to make sure they're safe.

She says it’s common that kidnappers snatch kids and hold them for ransom money.

"I talk with them every day because I have to know [that they're okay]," she said. "Uganda will steal the kids."

Anxiety in NC's Refugee Community

The Trump administration's proposed cap has sparked a new sense of fear within the refugee community in the Triad.

Of the 18,000 refugees that would be allowed into the country, a majority of the slots would be for people fleeing religious persecution or other reasons. Only 7,500 people cleared for resettlement and family unification would be admitted – people like Dative's niece and nephew.

"I think that there are a lot of people here that are fearful even if they're here as refugees with a legal documented status," said Megan Shepard, the Greensboro site director for Church World Service, a global faith-based organization that works to resettle refugees. "They're still fearful that they could be sent back home or more importantly that their loved ones might not be able to join them here."

Congressional democrats have urged the Trump administration to raise the cap and resume admitting refugees.  A confirmation vote on the cap has not yet been scheduled.

The Trump administration has slashed the refugee cap to 18,000 people for 2020, down from 110,000 in 2017 during the Obama administration. Because of this cut, Greensboro resident Dative worries she may never see her nephew and niece arrive in the U.S.
Credit Lynn Hey / For WUNC