President Donald Trump set the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States this year at 18,000, a historic low. The numbers are likely to be even lower, given the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugee resettlements in the U.S. are a fraction of what they would be in a usual year.
We’ve made it clear, repeatedly, why we believe Lancaster County has been right to establish itself as a place where refugees are welcome.
We’ve noted, with considerable pride, the history this county has of welcoming the stranger, as the Bible describes it.
We’ve noted that refugee resettlement here is supported by Lancaster County residents of both major political parties, often for reasons rooted in religious faith.
We’ve highlighted the economic benefits this county has drawn from the resettlement of refugees here. As Lancaster Chamber President and CEO Tom Baldrige and Lancaster County Community Foundation President and CEO Sam Bressi wrote in a September 2018 op-ed, the immigrant and refugee population is “an absolutely essential piece of our ability to continue to grow the local economy.”
As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Jeff Hawkes reported earlier this week, “Resettlement peaked in Lancaster County at 407 newcomers in 2016, or 20 times more per capita than the rest of the country, prompting the BBC to call Lancaster ‘the refugee capital of America.’ Resettlement has since dwindled under the Trump administration.”
We’ve noted that last fact, too, with deep regret. We believe the Trump administration’s actions in limiting the numbers of refugees — people seeking refuge from war, torture, persecution — are at odds with American, and Lancaster County, principles.
Our attention has been diverted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for racial justice in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd. But today, on these Opinion pages, we welcome the voices of three former refugees who call Lancaster County home.
Today is World Refugee Day, established by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the U.N. agency charged with protecting refugees.
Bhim Thapaliya came here with his family after they were forced out of Bhutan. Having had to learn English as a refugee, he’s an Elizabethtown College graduate who has created an educational mentoring nonprofit.
Ahmed Ahmed’s family had to flee Chad for Niger. As an infant, he nearly died of malaria and malnutrition in a refugee camp. He’s now a community organizer.
Dr. Nitin K. Tanna and his family fled the atrocities of Idi Amin’s Uganda. After his father suffered a heart attack in 1979, his mother worked on the assembly line at Dart Container to support the family. He and his brother went to the University of Pennsylvania — “medical school for me and dental school for him,” Tanna writes. He’s now the chief of breast imaging for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and the MRI Group.
Their stories and their contributions have become part of the fabric of Lancaster County.
It seems appropriate on this day that we also laud the work of Sheila Mastropietro, who since 1987 has led Church World Service’s efforts to resettle thousands of refugees in Lancaster County. She plans to retire Aug. 28.
“During her 33-year tenure here, Mastropietro oversaw the resettlement of 6,097 asylum seekers who fled war or persecution from around the world, including Albania, Bhutan, Burma, Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and the former Soviet Union,” Hawkes reported. “A separate 2,400 Cubans and Haitians arrived under a special U.S. immigration program.”
In a statement, Mastropietro said, “Lancaster County is truly unique in the welcome shown to those persecuted, repressed, threatened by their home countries. From the early 1700s through the present, Lancastrians have offered sanctuary to the displaced. Here, there is welcome.”
May it ever be so.
To all the dads
We wish our readers who are fathers a very happy Father’s Day on Sunday.
As the late, great Fred Rogers said, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero.”