Interfaith Works of Central New York is preparing for a return to a more open-minded approach to refugee resettlement under the incoming Biden Administration. Executive director Beth Broadway says as the Trump administration dramatically reduced the number of refugees, the organization expanded services aimed at helping refugees for the longer term.
"We've added a mental health component, medical services. We've added a citizenship and immigration program to help people get their immigration documents and pass the citizenship test. We've added programs around employment. We're going to have to figure out how to continue to do all of that work while at the same time settling as many as 500 to 600 people every year."
That compares to just over 100 that have trickled in over each of the past two years. Broadway says the return to more normal levels of refugees means positive changes for the community.
"Our landlords will have people re-filling their apartments and their rental properties. The grocery stores will pick up with more people buying food. The schools will have the children arriving again and being taught English. All of these things will be good for all of us."
Broadway says while Interfaith Works is excited about the prospect of more refugees enriching the community, she does want the Biden administration to understand that the new Americans aren’t given enough time to acclimate.
"Three to six months of helping a family who's come from a completely different culture with very little English skills...they don't get integrated in three to six months. A recognition by the administration that it takes longer and takes some resources to help people fully become everything they can be...contributing citizens of our community."
Broadway says that drive to succeed comes despite some of the worst circumstances. Many are coming to the US because they're facing facing civil war, violence, persecution, famine, and even climate-induced problems in their home countries.
She says the government actually provides very little support to refugees to start their new lives the US. They get a one-time stipend of $950 , most of which may be depleted by airfare. Instead, Broadway says it’s the area’s faith communities that have opened their hearts and pocketbooks by supporting resettlement agencies. She says most Central New Yorkers have been welcoming and understanding. But for those across the US who are not, Broadway says the Biden administration has to undo the attitudes cultivated by president Trump.
"A lot of the damage that has been done over these last four years has been the damage of dividing us, and offering an opportunity of hating on the 'other,' if you will. We've been taught to be afraid of refugees. Refugees have been lumped in with terrorists. Refugees have been lumped in with people pouring across our borders to take our jobs. None of that is true."
Broadway is that optimistic Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken will change the tone and rebuild the state department which has undergone a significant reduction in personnel who handle refugee applications and vetting.