When asked why I wanted to do the Immigration AB, I was focused on one thing, education. All the time you hear racist or discriminatory comments towards immigrants and refugees, and every time I want to stop them to spill all the facts of how they are wrong but I haven’t been able to. Now, I feel fully capable of being able to not only spill facts into their small focused minds but to use personal experiences to back it up.
After serving at New American Pathways in Atlanta, Georgia, organizing a closet, I met a volunteer who does that once a week. This older woman was able to bring new information to the table and even provide us with ways we could advocate for those. For instance, she mentioned how only 1% of all refugees resettle into “safe” countries. While 99% of the worlds refugees still have no safe place to call home, our help is more evident in the work they do. And when people say “they are just here to take our jobs” they are actually taking the jobs that we wouldn’t ever want to do and for the price they are getting paid (like working in a chicken farm for $7 an hour). Hence, they are actually helping our economy. Just in Georgia alone, they found that over 60,000 new immigrant business owners contributed a net $2.9 billion in business income. Or “they aren’t Americans, why are they here?” Actually they probably know more about our laws, culture, rights, history-then you do. They have to learn all of that before entering our country, go through an extensive, rigorous 13 step process to flee their country including 7 steps of security-out of their own free will, losing family members along the way, to become an “American”. Or “they are all terrorists” when actually most terrorists come from within our country (US born men are incarcerated at a rate over 2 1/2 times greater than that of foreign-born men) and why would they go through this extensive screening process for years to terrorize innocent people? Also generalizing such is wrong in the first place as all the refugees I’ve met are the nicest, hardest working individuals.
- Refugee Status-determining if the individual qualifies as a refugee
- Referral to the US-if meeting the criteria for resettlement, they are refereed to the US government by UNHCR, US Embassy, or trained Non-Governmental Organization.
- Resettlement Support Center-complies personal data and background for security clearance process and to present for interview.
- Security Clearance Process-security checks conducted through a name check.
- Security Clearance Process-certain refugees undergo an additional security review.
- Security Clearance Process-meet minimum age requirement having fingerprints and photo taken to be checked against various US government databases.
- In-Person Interview-conducting a detailed face-to-face interview with each refugee separated from their family members to compare their answers to determine if they qualify as a refugee and admissible under US law.
- DHS Approval-approve refugees application for resettlement and submit to US Department of State for final processing.
- Medical Screening
- Matching Refugee with Sponsor Agency-assigned a volunteer agency to assist them upon their arrival in the US.
- Cultural Orientation-preparing them for their journey to and initial resettlement in the US.
- Security Clearance Process-prior to departure to US, a second interagency check is conducted to see if there’s any new information.
- Admission to the US-a customs and border protection officer will review their documentation and conduct additional security checks to see if they are the same person they were when they were first screeened and approved.
Volunteering within the school system in an after school program, seeing how kids who have immigrated to America under the past 5 years know basically perfect English (because we as Americans expect them to learn the entire English language) was astonishing. Could you imagine at 8 years old staying after school until 6pm to become as American as possible while already being exhausted from trying to pronounce English perfectly and trying to fit in with others? Could you imagine having volunteers coming in all the time helping you out when all you want to do is call your cousins or grandparents to see if they are still alive?
Volunteering to set up an apartment that is covered in bugs trying to make it look like “home” was tough as we are adding donated foreign necessities and the walls are completely empty with no pictures to put on the wall. Could you imagine having no idea how to pay rent, grocery bills, utility bills, etc. while trying to find a job where they won’t discriminate against you but also trying to take care of your 7 or 9 family in a 3 person apartment space and scared family members for their life? Hearing your refugee neighbors get hit and killed in their apartment complex while walking on the sidewalk from someone who purposely drove up on the sidewalk to hit them? To know that although you are here escaping the war, you are still being bullied and beaten, being told you can’t practice your religion, having a president who is planning to stop any attempt of the rest of your family getting to America? Knowing that although they are still in your home land that there are hundreds of thousands of woman being raped and killed without any remorse?
Volunteering with Lutheran Services of Georgia and their match grant program (for every dollar from the federal budget gives them, they match it with two dollars) to get money to pay for your family and bills, you have to take a class every Wednesday morning learning the English language, how to budget, what our calendar system is and different phrases, creating a resume, etc. Could you imagine doing all that and having to take the bussing system at $95 a person for a month because you don’t know enough English language for our driving laws to take the driving test to get your license? And even if you got your license somehow and a car after saving up, you can only drive yourself to work while your other family members are still paying for the bussing?
I learned all of these difficulties and struggles they face everyday, every hour, every minute of their life. Trying to communicate to them to cover what a budget was or what “last week” or “spring” means, was the hardest thing for me to do. I had no idea how much English they knew or how much they previously knew about budgets or phrases. My heart is already so heavy learning everything they had to go through just to get here in America and even to the services where we were to volunteer for the day, it got heavier after. I was trying to do symbols and use their son to communicate with them further. I helped their son with mental math so he could help them with their budget for the month and year. Speaking to another dad and son relationship, where he was trying so hard to understand our system but he was also trying so hard to pronounce the words correctly (I think he finally pronounced “spring” correctly which made us both very happy). Watching him open an envelope with a picture of his friends from this program and get a huge smile on his face was satisfying. Knowing he can hang it up in his probably bare “home” was reassuring. After everything, they all started to leave and he found me later to shake my hand thanking me for my attempt to help him further. This just lit the fire under me to help immigrants and refugees further whether that’s advocating or doing a program like Lutheran Services. At the end of the day, we found out that we raised money for them for just being there volunteering. They count the mileage down to Georgia, the hotel we stayed at costs, the hours we were there and for how many people…they said we raised above $3,000 for them. Could you imagine what would happen if people could care more and volunteer more through them?!
- 91% of refugee households in Georgia are working and paying their own expenses within 6 months of arrival-among the highest self-sufficiency rates in the country.
- After-school programs for significant refugee populations saw a 94% attendance rate, and over 90% of students meet their goals such as homework completion, English language proficiency, and academic performance in math and reading.
- Georgias communities welcome 2,500-3,000 newly arriving refugees and is one of the nations most populous states that become home to refugees in proportion to its size.
- Becoming a welcoming community to refugees means more customers for our local businesses, more jobs created by immigrant entrepreneurs, and a thriving economy that benefits everyone.
- It’s easy to get involved and to help people who have immigrated to this country. It just takes one person to make a difference. Will you?