Open letter to the Aberdeen Community

Betty Oldenkamp
LSS President/CEO

Lutheran Social Services has been a part of the Aberdeen community since 1969. For the majority of that time we have offered hope and healing through Counseling Services, Adoption Services, Pregnancy Counseling, Disaster Response and New Beginnings Center. We have expanded the services based in Aberdeen to include the Community Resources Program and Kinship Services.

In recent years, Aberdeen has experienced people of ethnically and religiously diverse backgrounds moving into the community for employment. Contrary to what you may have heard, LSS does not recruit immigrants or refugees to move to Aberdeen and LSS does not transport immigrants or refugees by bus into the Aberdeen community.

LSS contracts with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to provide services to refugees who enter the United States legally and reside in South Dakota. As people with refugee status moved to Aberdeen, LSS was asked to provide assistance through consultation to civic leaders and community groups; offering case management, interpreter services and immigration services to eligible refugees; and collaborating with the school district, law enforcement and health services

The U.S. Refugee Admission Program is an embodiment of American values of compassion, generosity and leadership. You may not realize that refugees who come to the United States are among the most vetted immigrants in the world. The comprehensive process takes 18 months to two years and involves a series of security screenings, including biographic and biometric checks, medical screenings, forensic document testing and in-person interviews. A refugee’s identity is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases. The Department of Defense, National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of State and Department of Homeland Security are all involved. This past October, additional restrictions were put in place for refugees from geographic areas that pose significant security threats.

We acknowledge that refugee resettlement brings challenges. We also believe it brings great value that is difficult to quantify—adults who are eager to work; children who acclimate quickly and grow up to be teachers and doctors; youth who are exposed to language and culture that prepares them to learn, work and succeed in a global economy; communities that benefit from a diversity of culture; and ethnic businesses that enhance our landscape. Refugees make a significant contribution to the workforce and the economic growth of South Dakota.

In 1782, our founding fathers adopted the motto E pluribus unum as part of the Great Seal of the United States of America. E pluribus unum, out of many one, reflects the melting pot nature of our history—out of many people we become Americans. The rich tapestry of American life is woven from a diversity of cultural and religious traditions. Families pass their strong heritage from one generation to another—family recipes, holiday and religious celebrations, and most importantly work ethics, beliefs and values that brought our grandparents to America.

Continuing to live out this great motto starts with personally knowing others who are different from ourselves. Reach out, ask questions and gain a better understanding of our new Americans. Share a meal, volunteer, mentor a newcomer, or simply smile and introduce yourself. Learn why they fled their homeland; hear the story of their perilous journey. Ask them what it means to live in America. Don’t be surprised if you come away inspired by their resiliency and with deep gratitude for our freedoms as Americans.

LSS is a private non-profit human service agency. LSS serves people of all ages, races, faiths and economic levels with professional, confidential and affordable services. We believe it is God’s love that compels us to serve and to value all people.

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