Workshop leaders look at value immigrants bring
Samuel Smith, an immigration attorney with World Relief, and Luisa Orellana, an English teacher for refugees at Spokane Community College, discussed immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in an Eastern Washington Legislative Conference workshop.
Samuel assured that refugees, who flee their nations because of persecution based on race, religion, national origin, social or political group, undergo a long process of background and security checks with the United Nations over an average of 17 years in refugee camps. U.S. agencies review their cases and do security checks again.
In recent years, the State Department's cap on refugees went from 85,000 in 2016, to 110,000 in 2017 (for Syrian refugees) to 45,000 in 2018, to 30,000 in 2019 to 18,000 in 2020. It admits less than one percent of the world's 29.5 million refugees.
He said Eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers and others have asked for the cap to be reset at 85,000. World Relief continues to advocate for admitting more refugees. In its 30 years in Spokane, it has resettled more than 10,000 refugees.
In 2016, World Relief here resettled more than 600. Last year, only 158 were resettled here. That means less funding and fewer staff, but WR maintains staff to welcome new refugees and help refugees here adjust.
A Maryland court blocked a recent executive order, saying governors and county executives must approve refugees' entry into their areas. While the case was pending, Gov. Jay Inslee and Spokane County said they welcome refugees, but the governor of Texas, previously the biggest receiver of refugees, said refugees are no longer welcome there, Samuel said.
"World Relief has plenty to do to inform people. Groups and congregations volunteer with people who are here," he said.
"Among immigrants, there is fear Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will pick people up," he said, "but refugees are protected, because they have green cards and a path to citizenship."
Samuel trains refugee and immigrant clients how to talk with ICE officers if they are picked up, to show their ID and green cards. He knows it's still traumatizing, because they escaped trauma in their homelands.
"We need to be proactive in fighting prejudice and threats, and to support refugees' mental health. Fear keeps them from reporting crimes and may discourage their participation in the census," he said.
"Refugee admission is humanitarian. We resettle the most vulnerable people, giving them a chance to be educated, find work and thrive," he said. "Data shows refugees pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
"We also gain economically and culturally as they share their food, language, music and art," he said, encouraging people to go to cultural events, marches and vigils.
"Taking refugees out of dangerous, degrading and difficult situations makes our city, region and the U.S. better," he said.
Luisa, whose family crossed three borders to settle in the U.S. through the Sanctuary movement in the 1980s, now teaches students and has them share their stories.
She began teaching Asian grade school students 27 years ago. Although it was not thought professional, she visited their families to hear their stories and teach them English. She has taught immigrants from Ukraine, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Some never used a pencil or paper. Her students have gone to college, become social workers and work in the community.
"My goal is to be a bridge for students to succeed," Luisa said. "I understand their fear and hesitancy to trust people. I tell them of resources, like attorneys and counselors."
She knows children who were present when their father was arrested. Their grades dropped. It was hard for them to focus.
Luisa is concerned about children and youth at the border, who are separated from their parents, and about unaccompanied minors in Spokane who may face extortion by people who loaned them money to come.
When people ask why she chose to come to America, she says "America" is a continent. She was born in America—Central America.
Angry about injustices, Luisa takes a deep breath and asks God for peace to give her strength to act.
Samuel at times lets his anger motivate him, but he knows he must find balance and not be stuck in his anger. He is frustrated that World Relief lacks the capacity to help everyone who needs help—even with four full time immigration law practitioners.
"We need to hold on to hope and keep helping," he said. "It's important to inform the public, so people have confidence to refute misinformation and prejudice.
He invites people to connect with immigrants through schools, Refugee Connections, World Relief and community colleges, because "connections educate community members and help refugees feel safe."
Information is at worldreliefspokane.org or email ms.orellana@icloud .com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020