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Catholic Charities helps refugees
John Michael Ford says Catholic Charities of Tennessee plays a key role in helping refugees arrive in America and become productive citizens.

Think of yourself as a weary, traumatized and scared refugee coming off a flight at Nashville International Airport. The language is incomprehensible, as are the terminal’s directional signs and the instructions on the baggage claim floor.
Perhaps this young family has just escaped the daily shellings, barrel bombs and poison gas attacks from the murderous regime in Syria. Or maybe they barely slipped out of the jaws of famine and civil war in South Sudan.
In any case, Catholic Charities of Tennessee has a case worker ready at the jetway to escort new arrivals to homes prepared for them, with rent paid for a time by the humanitarian agency and with furniture supplied by private donors.   It's their welcome to the USA and to new lives of freedom, safety and opportunity.
“We see ourselves as the hands of Christ for those who are approved to be here,” John Michael Ford told the Rotary Club of McMinnville at its Thursday luncheon meeting. Ford will expand on his civic club remarks in an interview on public radio WCPI 91.3 on Wednesday at 5:05 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1:05 a.m.
In order to qualify as a refugee under U.S. State Department regulations, the applicant must demonstrate “a well-founded fear of persecution,” Ford explained. Often, that fear is based on an actual history of repeated death threats. 
“There is a very tough, strong process of vetting refugees,” he said. “All the i’s have to be dotted and the t’s crossed before they get on the plane.”
Catholic Charities, founded in 1962 as a social services agency of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, pays rent, utilities and some other essentials for the new arrivals in their first few months. But an essential part of the program is helping refugees learn English, local customs and job skills as quickly as possible -- then transition to regular, steady jobs so they can support themselves and their families.
“After six to nine months, 80 percent of our clients have achieved sustainability,” said Ford.
Among those the organization has helped make a new life in Middle Tennessee is an Iraqi translator who served U.S. Army units combatting extremist insurgents.
Ford noted that another refugee was working a full-time job in Nashville but took on two more part-time gigs to help pay tuition and fees at Lipscomb University, where his son had recently enrolled as a freshman. "He was so proud of his son and he was happy to be working to support his education.”
But the welcome mat has been cut short by the Trump administration, he stated. During the last year of the former Obama presidency, some 150,000 refugees were admitted annually to the U.S. In Trump's first few months, the rate has been cut to about 50,000 per year. With the drastic reductions, Catholic Charities of Tennessee has had to lay off 12 staffers, taking the workforce down to 32 caseworkers and support personnel.