A successful Alaska refugee program may soon be put on hold, a casualty of federal funding diverted due to an immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Federal funding previously directed to refugees is now instead going to address unaccompanied children who are crossing into the U.S.
Many refugees stepping foot in Alaska and the U.S. for the first time begin their journey at the Catholic Social Services Welcoming Center, a nonprofit that provides programs tailored to new arrivals.
Things that may seem basic to Americans are the primary focus at the center.
A newly-arrived group of refugees who have been in Alaska anywhere from 15 days to four months attended a class to learn how to fill out a job application, details of American society and whatever else they are struggling to adapt to.
"We've had families who say, 'What's a refrigerator?'" said Susan Bomalaski, executive director of Catholic Social Services of Alaska. "We had a family unplug the fridge because they thought it was making the apartment cold."
Training provided by the center could end if the center loses the more than $400,000 of federal funds it currently receives, something under consideration due to an influx of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski got a first look at the border issue when she toured a U.S. Border Patrol station in Texas last month.
"While Senator Murkowski applauds the efforts to help the unaccompanied minors, she believes the administration sat back and watched this crisis emerge," Murkowski spokesperson Matthew Felling said in a statement, "which has led to a domino effect that's moved funds away from groups that were doing their work admirably."
Catholic Social Services says both concerns are important issues which need assistance.
"You wouldn't take money from the flood to give it to the earthquake," Bomalaski said. "Let's appropriate additional funds to solve that crisis, but don't take it from an existing program that is doing so well."
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says any return of the diverted funding will have to wait for improvements in the border crisis.
"We will continue to monitor the situation at the border closely in order to make the best decisions about the resources available," a spokesperson for the office said in a statement. "We hope to be able to release all of the remaining funding for refugee programs, but our final decisions will be based on whether the initial signs of progress continue."
Bomalaski says that with 80 percent of newly arrived refugees getting a job within six months and 82 percent getting off public assistance within a year, the program is working.
Sen. Mark Begich's office says he appreciates what CSS does for the state.
"Catholic Social Services does great work helping Alaskans and he will do all he can to make sure its funding is maintained," a spokesperson said.
According to CSS, it will have to start cutting back programs if it doesn't receive federal funding by Aug. 15.