Athena Salman Charlene Fernandez Juan Mendez

State politicians Athena Salman (left), Charlene Fernandez (center) and Juan Mendez at an IRC event.

With the support of volunteers, students and state representatives, attendees at a Sept. 17, event made phone calls, wrote postcards and signed petitions in an effort to get the Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement Act (GRACE) passed.

The act would set a mandatory minimum of 95,000 refugee admissions into the United States every year.

Arranged by the Phoenix chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the event was held at Arizona College in Glendale.

Aaron Rippenkroeger, executive director of the IRC, feels strongly about this act as the number of refugee admissions has been dwindling under the current administration.

“If the GRACE Act were to get passed it would be a game-changer for 95,000 lives a year,” Rippenkroeger said.

Rippenkroeger explained how the number has continued to shrink from 110,000 annual refugees to 30,000. He worries there’s only so much lower it can go.

Arizona House Minority Leader Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, State Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Temp, and Rep. Athena Salman, D-Temp, worked alongside attendees.

“We are facing the worst human migration crisis, the worst refugee crisis in modern history,” Salman said. “It is now that we need to take more people in because that is what we owe to our sisters and brothers around the world.”

Salman is confident the message of the GRACE act will be heard.

“We know that if we continue to put the pressure if we continue to keep the heat going, this administration can’t completely abandoned those values and promises,” Salman said.

Over 360 bipartisan officials, across over 40 states, recently released a letter in support of the GRACE act.

Of the 360 signatures, 36 were from Arizona bipartisan elected officials assuring their support for refugees in the Valley.

Rippenkroeger worries about the negative effects this shrinking number will have on the city.

The IRC has continued to be an international support system for the thousands of people who flee their home countries from violence every year and seek safety in America.

In Phoenix, the IRC is able to help dozens of refugees expand small businesses from restaurants to barbershops across the Valley.

The IRC helps refugees gain access to things like education and housing across the Valley.

Economically speaking, another cut in the number of admitted refugees could impact the Phoenix economy, Rippenkroeger explains.

On a humanitarian level, Rippenkroeger emphasized the disconnect between America’s values and the actions taking place under the current administration.

“It feels enormously contrary to our historical stance and efforts,” Rippenkroeger said.

He added the IRC plans to continue to stand by refugees and voice their message to officials.

“What we are trying to do is speak as loudly as we can that that is not what we believe in as Americans or as Arizonans, and we want to be as loud and visible as we can,” Rippenkroeger said.

The new number of refugee admissions is expected to be announced by the end of September.

“One of the core values of the United States of America is the compassion and welcome for people who are fleeing violence and persecution,” Rippenkroeger said.

Fernandez left the room with a message of hope: “This is about kindness, this is about humanity, and this is about treating people like our neighbor.”