January 13, 2020

The Board of Commissioners Jan. 9 passed a resolution directing Chair Deborah Kafoury to formally request continued resettlement of refugees in Multnomah County. The move comes after President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to consent, in writing, to the resettlement of refugees within their jurisdiction. 

Francis Kham came to Oregon in 2015 as a refugee from Myanmar. He now sits on the Board of Catholic Charities

If either a state or local government does not consent, then refugees will no longer be allowed to settle there.

This is just the latest example of a racist regime intent on dividing a nation built by immigrants, said Chair Kafoury, citing the administration’s record-low admission rates for refugees and a narrowing of the definition of who qualifies for asylum.

“He is politicizing a humanitarian issue at the expense of people who are seeking protection from violence or persecution,” she said. “At Multnomah County, we value our immigrant and refugee communities and we recognize the many contributions they make culturally, socially and economically.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly cut the number of refugees permitted into the country to record lows.

“We are here not to harm you. We are trying our best to integrate into the system and make contributions to our city, state and nation,” said Francis Kham, who came to Oregon in 2015 as a refugee from Myanmar. “This is our nation that we all love.”

Today Kham is married and a father of three. He is also director of the Zomi Catholic Community of Portland and a board member for the resettlement agency Catholic Charities. He’s also a job coach for newly arriving refugees through the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO).

Lee Po Cha, executive director of IRCO, emphasized the contributions that immigrants and refugees bring to their new communities.

“We have helped build lots of new beginnings, we have seen lots of success,” he told the Board. “We may be refugees today, but we’re your contributing members of society tomorrow.” 

Lee Po Cha, executive director of IRCO, spoke of the contributions refugees make when they settle in Oregon.

Lul Abdulle, a refugee services case manager with the resettlement agency Lutheran Community Services Northwest, urged the Board to continue protecting vulnerable people.

“We come from a long way of struggle, war, starvation, disease, malnutrition, looting and blaming,” she said. “We wanted to come to this great country. We thought we would get care and guidance. We still have hope among you and your sisters. We need protection. We appreciate your welcoming and hope you will continue to protect many refugee families when refugees become a target.”

In response to the latest blow to resettlement, at least 40 state governors, including Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, have submitted formal requests to continue resettlement. The Board’s move allows the state’s three resettlement agencies, all located in Multnomah County, to continue their work.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann, born in South Korea and adopted by an Oregon family, reiterated that support.

“I want all immigrants and refugees to know you are welcome here,” she said. “We want you here and we’re honored to have you in our community.” 

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal thanked the resettlement partners for their work and their testimony.

“I’m proud to support this resolution, I’m also angry that we have to,” she said. “Accepting refugees, welcoming refugees, should be part of our bedrock principle, not something we opt into. It isn’t just an economic imperative and it isn't just about the contributions refugees make. It’s an ethical imperative.”