Twenty years ago, Americans rallied in unprecedented fashion to help the flood of Vietnamese refugees entering the United States at the end of the Vietnam War. But two decades and 2 million Vietnamese refugees later--as sentiment against immigrants sweeps across the United States--the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is about to close the remaining detention camps in Hanoi, where about 36,000 languish.
"We are in a new era in refugee resettlement," says Heidi Schoedel, executive director of Exodus World Service (EWS) based in Itasca, Illinois. "We are facing some unprecedented assaults on refugees and immigrants."
Legislation is pending in Congress that would cut the quota of legal refugees allowed to enter the United States from its long-time yearly average of about 100,000 to 75,000 this year and 50,000 annually thereafter. This is at a time when refugee numbers internationally are escalating, from 7 million in 1980 to 22 million in 1995. The situation is expected to grow worse this year because of the ongoing problems in such hot spots as Bosnia.
"We seem to be losing the capability as a nation to respond compassionately to new groups in need," says Ralston Deffenbaugh, executive director of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), one of a dozen nonprofit groups that have teamed with the government for more than two decades in a partnership to resettle refugees.
SUPPORT DRYING UP: In addition to the government restricting refugee numbers, many Christians themselves have become wary of helping. LIRS recently closed its California extension office, folding operations into two other ecumenical groups. The move is a result of a $40,000 deficit within the Lutheran organization and a shift in public attitudes ...1