Geeta Rahimi never wanted to leave her home country of Afghanistan.
Relocating to the United States meant leaving behind her family, friends, career and culture. But she knew leaving was the best way to protect her daughter and ensure her best possible future.
In 2015, Rahimi and her family came to the United States under a special immigration visa and became clients at Refugee Services of Texas, a social services agency dedicated to providing assistance to refugees and other displaced persons fleeing from persecution.
How to help
If you’re interested in donating to Refugee Services of Texas, visit their impact page here.
Rahimi, a university professor in her home city, enjoyed getting to know a variety of people. But when she came to the United States, she knew only two other people: her husband and her daughter.
“I had to start from zero – forget everything, my family, my job,” Rahimi said. “I didn’t know what actual zero meant until I got to the United States. I lost my identity.”
She is one of 2,437 refugees who have settled in Fort Worth between 2015 and 2020, according to data from an Oct. 4 informal report to City Council members.
“The United States typically resettles the most vulnerable among displaced persons. So it’s mom, dad and small children,” said Chris Kelley, a media relations consultant for Refugee Services of Texas. “We do have individuals who are LGBTQ+ and also those who are from very small religious minorities who are persecuted in their home countries.”
What is a refugee?
According to the Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021, a refugee is an individual who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The leading countries of origin in Fort Worth among all agencies include Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Syria and Iraq. ZIP codes 76119, 76106 and 76116 received the most refugees over the five-year span, according to the report. In 2016, 1,022 refugees were settled, the highest number of all five years.
For fiscal year 2021-2022, Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth, a partner agency with the city, settled 745 refugees – a record number. The majority of those refugees were from Afghanistan. For fiscal year 2022-2023, the organization forecasts it will settle 425 refugees, Kelley said.
For fiscal year 2021-2022, Refugee Services of Texas in Dallas settled 1,001 refugees, the Austin branch settled 1,278 and the Houston branch settled 439 refugees.
“Texas has one of the highest numbers of refugee resettlements in the country,” said Christina Brooks, chief equity officer and director of the diversity and inclusion department for the city of Fort Worth. “Once refugees are granted status in the U.S., where they go is dependent on the quality of services. Texas has a really robust support network for refugees.”
The city focuses on directing traffic toward organizations like Refugee Services of Texas that do all the leg work, Brooks added. The city is responsible for providing the refugees with everything they need to find the right agencies.
“The county was very helpful and offered a lot of assistance,” Rahimi said. “The Tarrant County Public Health Department made sure clients had financial help for medications and the metro transportation and RST helped us get bus passes.”
Refugee services across the country are federally funded. About 60% of funding for Refugee Services of Texas comes from the federal government, Kelley said.
When Rahimi arrived in the United States, she couldn’t work right away because she had to take care of her daughter. After that, Rahimi worked many jobs to help support her family.
Rahimi worked as an Amazon delivery driver, a job she took to support her family, but it was physically taxing on her body.
She struggled with lower back pain and couldn’t hold more than two or three pounds. But, as an Amazon delivery driver, she was expected to carry heavy boxes to people’s doors, Rahimi said, slightly tearing up.
“The only hope I had was thinking about my daughter’s future – I accepted every challenge and overcame every challenge for her.”
After Amazon, she worked as a cashier at a few stores, which provided her with the opportunity to get to know and talk to people. Rahimi learned proper English in Afghanistan, but learning to speak English in America proved more difficult than anticipated.
“People had a hard time understanding me, but working as a cashier and interacting with people gave me the opportunity to practice my English,” Rahimi said.
About four years later, in February 2019, Rahimi was hired as a part-time resettlement case manager at Refugee Services of Texas, and Rahimi jumped on the “dream job” opportunity after working for the agency as a volunteer and contract interpreter for them when she first arrived in the United States.
A few months after being hired part time, she became a grant case manager. Rahimi enjoyed working directly with clients and helping them adjust to the culture change and find jobs.
“I was very happy because I was connecting to the people, connecting to the refugees,” Rahimi said. “I learned a lot about the lives of other refugees, and I shared my own experiences and about Refugee Services of Texas.”
In March 2021, she was promoted to her current position as a program manager.
“I had a hope when I was a client that one day I would work here. It took a while, but I knew I could do work here and help people,” Rahimi said.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that refugees are a security threat to the United States when these people are actively seeking protection, Kelley said.
“I think that it is a misfortune to believe that the most vulnerable in all of humanity are somehow a security threat,” Kelley said. “Gaining refugee status is the hardest, legal path to gain entry to the country – you subject yourself and your family to medical testing, security vetting and personal interviews.”
It can also take many years for refugees to be granted refugee status in the country because of the backlog in federal courts and the sheer volume of applications, Brooks added. With so many upheavals in the world right now, that is a long process to put a family through to get that refugee designation.
Americans must understand the difference between immigrant and refugee, Brooks said. Immigrant is an umbrella term, but there are all types of subgroups underneath. Refugees are here because they have been granted that opportunity by the U.S. government in a fair and equitable way.
Refugees are coming with work experience or education from their home countries. They’re bringing skills and talents to the Fort Worth marketplace and contributing new ideas and innovation, Brooks said.
While Rahimi was welcomed with open arms to America, she also faced scrutiny at the hands of dangerous cultural misconceptions.
“Sometimes I would get reactions when people learned I was Muslim or from Afghanistan,” Rahimi said. “Their reactions were not good, and they weren’t good for me. But I started to advocate, attend meetings and share my story and the stories of other refugees so people would understand.”
Many people also think refugees come to “enjoy the U.S.”, Rahimi added, which is not true.
“No one wants to leave their homeland unless they have to and when they need to start a new life,” she said.
Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.