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Christine Armario, AP
In this Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 photo, student Abdullah Arab, middle, 11, helps classmates Habeebullah Najme, left, 12, and Nada Alradi, right, 11, in a room filled with refugee children at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Calif. According to the U.S. State Department, nearly 80 percent of the more than 11,000 Syrian arrivals over the past year were children. Many of those children are enrolling in public schools around the country, including Chicago; Austin, Texas; New Haven, Connecticut; and El Cajon, which received 76 new Syrian students the first week of school.

Politicians continue to debate the level of vetting refugees who enter the country should receive and how many refugees our nation should bring into its borders. Yet, politics aside, it’s refreshing to know that so many people in Utah and beyond are busily at work trying to help refugees who are already here to resettle and rebuild their lives.

Leaders of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services visited Salt Lake City recently to tour the LDS Humanitarian Center and Deseret Manufacturing. They were naturally curious, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been flooding Lutheran resettlement centers nationwide, prompting extra volunteer training sessions.

That partnership, which has included cash donations from the LDS Church (which owns this newspaper), is expected to grow. LDS Church leaders have encouraged members to help refugees and have set up websites to help.

The combined efforts of the two churches are not a commentary on the heated political dialogue about whether refugees, particularly from terrorism-plagued Syria, represent a threat to national security. Instead, these churches are dealing with the visceral realities faced by families — and in many cases single mothers or orphaned children — who are deeply affected by the ravages of war.

Most are in desperate need of a place to live and a path toward safety and normalcy. These refugees are vetted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which generally accepts about 1 percent of those who come under its charge for resettlement. That process can take up to 10 months, according to the U.N.

The few who are assigned to come to the United States must then undergo additional vetting by federal security and law enforcement agencies, which includes fingerprint and background checks and a check against terrorist and crime databases. Medical exams are also performed, and each applicant is interviewed extensively.

Only about half of these are approved for entry into the United States, security experts say. Those who make it have gone through a process that typically takes up to three years.

The success of refugees, and the success of their children and future generations, largely depends on compassionate individuals and cultures who make the courageous decision to help.

The United States has encountered this need before and answered the call. At the end of the Vietnam War, thousands of refugees, many of them so-called “boat people,” came to the United States, touching off widespread fears. Their record of achievement in education, business and other fields over the past 40 years has put those fears to rest.

It's yet to be seen how those Syrian refugees will fare in modern America. However, the volunteers who are spending their time and treasure to assist them deserve our praise.

15 comments on this story

While it's legitimate to debate how the United States handles refugees and immigration, the founding narratives of America from the pilgrims forward speak to the immense contributions the nation has gained from refugees and immigrants who add immeasurably to the tapestry of American culture. Of immediate importance, however, are human beings now legally in our borders who are suffering and in need of compassion and help. That so many Americans are willing to offer this is a powerful statement of the nation’s ideals and values.