Congressmen Raise Concerns About Refugee Resettlement In Fayetteville

Nov 18, 2016

In late September, Canopy Northwest Arkansas, a new faith-based global refugee resettlement center in Fayetteville, received final approval from the U.S. State Department to move forward with its essential mission — to accommodate as many as 100 refugees a year.

Canopy’s resettlement Director Emily Crane Linn, who is headquartered at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, says she was euphoric.

Emily Crane Linn is Canopy’s resettlement director

“It’s real,” she says. “We’ve been approved. There’s no more provisional, no more waiting. It’s happening.”

Emily Crane Linn is Canopy’s resettlement director
Credit Jacqueline Froelich/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

But in the midst of coordinating housing, health care, education and employment opportunities for four Congolese and one Iraq refugee expected later this year, Crane Linn's learned of another piece of official correspondence written by three Arkansas Congressmen to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry regarding Canopy.

“They said they were concerned about the security and the vetting process,” Crane Linn says.

Canopy Northwest Arkansas, an affiliate of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, is one of two refugee resettlement groups operating in Arkansas. The other is run by Catholic Charities Immigration Services, based in Springdale, which resettles a few individuals every year who have direct family connections in Northwest Arkansas. In contrast, Canopy has been approved to resettle as many as 100 refugees annually with no family in the region.

The formal complaint, spurred by Canopy’s approval, was issued October 24th by U.S. Reps. Steve Womack (R-Rogers), Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs), and Rick Crawford (R-Jonesboro) newly re-elected following uncompetitive races Tuesday. They claim the U.S. refugee resettlement process is deeply flawed and that a lack of credible background and forensic evidence will result in terrorist infiltration.

They point to internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents provided to House Judiciary Committee members, as well as FBI congressional testimony, as certain proof. Emily Crane Linn says she immediately contacted Womack after learning of the letter.

“We care about security too,” she say. “The last thing we want is to put anybody here at risk, to put ourselves at risk, or put the people at risk that we are resettling, who’ve fled danger. That would be antithetical to everything we are doing.”

Crane Linn says international refugee resettlement cases take several years of scrutiny, first by United Nation Refugee Service agents, who conduct multiple identity and background checks. Many refugees eventually return home, she says, but if conveyed permanent U.N. refugee status, only then is an individual matched to a host country.  

Those seeking entry into the U.S. are further screened by the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and federal immigration authorities. Once cleared, they are assigned to one of nine faith-based refugee resettlement agencies, including Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services decides cases that will do well here,” Crane Linn says, “based on the languages we speak and religious groups present, and the sorts of jobs that we have. But we, as a refugee resettlement site, don’t get to choose.”

In an emailed statement for this report, Womack says his concerns are not with Canopy but rather the federal government and its ability to properly clear Syrian refugees, in particular, for resettlement in the U.S.

In fiscal 2016, the Obama administration committed to resettling 85,000 refugees in the U.S. including 13,000 Syrians. Next year’s proposed quota is 110,000. President-elect Donald Trump, however, has vowed to ban any migrants from nations with a history of nurturing terrorists who subsequently attacked the United States, Europe or their allies.