Refugees of the Miami Valley

Step into English class for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the students are more than happy to introduce themselves and say where they're from.

"My name is Muhammad. I am from Saudi Arabia." "My name's Ibrahim. I am from Sudan in Africa."

INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: Native countries of refugees living in Dayton

Three classmates nearby are from Libya, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, respectively. They've bonded over their shared goal to learn English. The students at St. John's in Dayton come from fifty different countries. ESOL Coordinator, Rebecca Williams, says about half of the students are refugees--mostly from East and Central Africa--driven out of their countries by war, sexual violence, and hunger.

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

"Who is from D.R. Congo?" asks Williams, as she enters an entry-level class. "Raise your hand if you are from Congo." About a dozen hands go up.

All refugees allowed entry to the United States are required to take English classes within days of arriving.

"The refugees, they desperately want to be able to have a job and feed their family and to become contributing members of our community and they know that learning the English language is a key to be able to do that," Williams said.

NOW WATCH: What is the vetting process for immigrants and refugees?

Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (CSSMV) is the official portal through which refugees come to the Dayton area. The agency resettles between 250 and 400 refugees a year. Those who come have gone through a multi-step vetting process and waited years--even decades in some cases--to make this their home.

Waiting is nothing new to Abdi Ahmed, now a U.S. citizen who works, votes, and pays taxes. He fled civil war as a teenager in his native Somalia and spent eight years in a refugee camp. He describes it as "just like a cage, which is opened up." Ahmed's family still lives in that cage--the Hagadera Refugee Camp in Kenya. His wife and two small children were scheduled to arrive in Dayton in early February, but didn't come when President Trump's initial travel ban--and court decision blocking it--halted the refugee program.

"Imagine how you feel," says Ahmed. "Your family's somewhere else stuck and they tell you they're not gonna come."

A second travel ban was issued March 6th--keeping a 120-day ban on refugees coming into the country. That too was blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii, which the Trump administration is appealing and could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Ahmed understands the U.S. government is trying to keep out terrorists, but says most refugees are victims of terrorism.

"Everywhere there's bad people, but I don't think a small baby can be a terrorist," Ahmed said.

Michael Murphy manages the refugee resettlement program for CSSMV. He says the travel bans and court decisions have delayed a process that already takes the average refugee nine years to be vetted and cleared to come to the United States.

NOW WATCH: The U.S. will honor an Obama-era refugee deal Trump once called ‘dumb’

"It's multiple checks. You know, people are checking backgrounds. They're identifying who people are. They're making sure that all of the information that is provided is accurate. If the information can't be verified, the person doesn't move forward," Murphy said.

However, Ahmed is not going to give up on the effort to bring his family to the U.S.

"I want them to get a better life, " said Ahmed.

He knows that won't begin to happen as long as there's a ban, and no one can tell him how long that will be.

"So his wife will wait. His children will wait....and he will wait," said Murphy.

About the Author