A Sharp Decline: Rogers Park Braces For Impacts Of Refugee Restrictions

Alanna Demetrius | The PhoenixSome signs can be seen in yards around the Rogers Park neighborhood and show catch phrases supporting refugees.


First-year Loyola neuroscience major Afnan Amdeen said she remembers life in Baghdad, Iraq as a dangerous place to live. 

“One time my sisters’ school got bombed, luckily they didn’t go that day,” the 18-year-old said.

Her family was one of the thousands of refugees fleeing the instability caused by the Iraq War — a conflict that lasted from 2003 to 2011 with repercussions felt to this day. 

Amdeen said when the Iraqi government found out her father worked for an American company, threats began. It got bad enough that her family fled — first to Jordan, then to the U.S. where they have lived since 2007, first in Austin, TX then in the Chicago area since 2012, she said. However, she said her family’s story is mild compared to the stories of the current refugee crisis. And for many new refugees, it’s getting harder to escape to the U.S.

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Sept. 26 only up to 18,000 refugees will be allowed into the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 — down from a record low 30,000 refugees last year. 

“Our journey was way easier … because of the people who were willing to help us,” Amdeen said. “Now people are waiting years just to get their paperwork.” 

This ceiling is the lowest it’s ever been, according to the Center for Immigration Studies — a non-partisan, non-profit research organization. The previous record was set last year, The Phoenix reported. This is part of a trend of restrictive policies imposed by the Trump administration, citing increasing costs and security concerns as the reason for these restrictions, according to the White House website. 

Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees allowed in the United States has gone down significantly, with one of Trump’s first executive orders in 2017 used to temporarily stop all migration from several majority-Muslim countries, according to the White House website

Rogers Park, a diverse community where many refugees resettled, may feel the effects of the new policy, said Dr. Ruth Gomberg-Munoz, a professor of anthropology at Loyola. The biggest impact could be on the refugees already resettled here waiting for the rest of their family, she said. 

“All of these policies prolong separation,” Gomberg-Munoz said. “It’s an impact that’s hard to measure. … They lose years of relationship as a result.” 

Gomberg-Munoz highlighted the U.S. history of restrictive immigration policies, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — a federal law prohibiting the immigration of all Chinese people. 

Dr. Daniel Amick, a Loyola professor of anthropology, said it’s also important to remember the impact the limits will have on refugees waiting outside the U.S. 

Amick said refugees don’t want to leave their homes, they’re forced to flee. If countries don’t accept refugees, it puts them in danger, he said. 

Amick is also the faculty advisor for Loyola’s Refugee Outreach, a student organization started in 2009 that raises money for refugee resettlement organizations and sends student volunteers to local organizations that offer new refugees resources. 

Rogers Park is home to organizations that help with refugee resettlement and adjustment. Among them is Centro Romero (6216 N. Clark St.), about a mile from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. Gomberg-Munoz serves on the board of directors at Centro Romero. 

Centro Romero — which is celebrating 35 years Oct. 17 — provides low cost legal services and resources for families to adjust to their new environment, said Susana Salgado, family service program manager for Centro Romero. Loyola partners with Centro Romero and provides student volunteers through the Loyola4Chicago program, The Phoenix reported.

“We want to help [refugees and immigrants] empower themselves by giving them the tools they need,” Salgado said. 

She said in the past, the refugee community became fearful and she said she feels people will become scared again. 

Some Loyola students said they disagree with Trump’s new policy.

“You have an influx of people trying to flee and no country that’s willing to give them refuge,” Amdeen said. “It’s very sad.”

Shane Youngblood, an 18-year-old political science major, said the new restrictions make him ashamed because he said they contradict American values. 

“We are actively turning away those… in a position none of us can imagine,” the first-year said. “We have more than enough resources to help them, but we are turning them away.” 

Tina Tiehen, a 21-year-old senior studying biology, said she thinks it’s unfortunate that people are being turned away. 

“Refugees are in immediate danger,” she said. “I’m glad that there are people at Loyola who are trying to change this.”

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