Refugees React To Trump Administration Program Cuts
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
At a cafe tucked inside a church in Highland Park N.J., all of the chefs are recently resettled refugees. Some of the patrons are, too. This week, the Trump Administration announced major cuts to the refugee program. So reporter Matt Katz from member station WNYC stopped in for some coffee and conversation.
MATT KATZ, BYLINE: Every day for lunch at the Global Grace Cafe, a different refugee is the head chef.
SETH KAPER-DALE: So every Tuesday it's Norah from Eritrea. And Wednesday is Syria day. So it's always Najila from Syria. Thursday is Congolese day - it's Yvonne. Friday it's Indonesia day - that's Yanna.
KATZ: Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale oversees the cafe at his Reformed Church of Highland Park. The nonprofit affiliated with his church has resettled 200 refugees since 2015. The cafe was a natural outgrowth of that work.
KAPER-DALE: Sometimes, the conversation around refugees is just about giving people food, shelter and clothing and safety. But we believe that giving people opportunities to share beauty, that that's an essential part of life, as well. So food is beautiful. Sitting together around food is beautiful.
KATZ: Refugee chefs get $125 a day and work experience in a kitchen. On Friday, chai was boiling on the stove.
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KATZ: And a line was forming at the register.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: May I have - to go - the Indonesian chicken?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'm glad you liked it. It's very good.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's very good, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Six dollars, please.
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KATZ: The Indonesian coconut chicken was being doled out with a smile that masked a new reality. The day before, President Trump had announced he was cutting refugee admissions to the lowest level since the program was created in 1980. A maximum of just 18,000 will be resettled this coming fiscal year, down from 30,000 last year and 85,000 in 2016. Already, two Syrian refugees - the sons of the chef who cooks on Wednesdays - had their flights to the U.S. canceled.
KAPER-DALE: This was a particularly deflating moment. We had made sure that the apartment was all freshly painted and that new beds were put together and that the room was set. And then nope, that's cancelled.
KATZ: Florence Nyamamunari, a Congolese refugee, recently arrived from a refugee camp where she had lived for nine years. She's worked doing catering through the cafe. But, mostly, she stops by to eat before English class.
FLORENCE NYAMAMUNARI: He is like family. I have friend here. I have many people I can talk if I have problem.
KATZ: She's working as a home health aide. Her 17-year-old daughter has a big social circle at high school. But, she says, she prays every day for her sister and mother and friends to join her here. There are nearly 26 million refugees around the world, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
NYAMAMUNARI: I don't know why presidents don't want refugee to come. In camp in Africa is a bad life.
KATZ: Refugees are vetted by the State Department and then flown into the U.S. for resettlement. While asylum seekers seek safety once they're already here, like after having crossed the southern border. It's that border crisis that's to blame for the refugee cuts, says the Trump administration. The asylum backlog is so extensive that Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, says refugee officials must be reassigned to handle asylum claims.
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KEN CUCCINELLI: America is still, as it has been for some time, the No. 1 country in the world for aiding - providing humanitarian aid all around the world.
KATZ: Despite the refugee cuts, Global Grace Cafe, Kaper-Dale says, will remain open. For NPR News, I'm Matt Katz.
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