Skip to main content

Author: Danielle Gauthier

1944-1953 – “A Home for the Displaced”

“100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial” Series:
Installment #4

Welcome to the fourth installment of our series “100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial.” The previous installment, “1935-1944Don’t CondemnUnderstand,” described how the International Institute of Boston (IIB) found every opportunity available to welcome and support immigrants during the Great Depression and the Second World War, including through reintegrating Japanese Americans freed from internment.  

The mid-1940s through mid-1950s were broadly a time of recovery and renewal for the New England region, and the International Institute of Boston (IIB) continued to take advantage of every new opportunity that arose to help immigrants. Boston’s economy was on an upswing, having been revived by war-time mobilization efforts. Factory jobs were coming back, and IIB advocated for fair treatment of immigrant workers in the workforce.  

While prejudices and struggles persisted, national attitudes towards immigration were warming in significant ways. The U.S. had achieved victories fighting alongside foreign allies. As U.S. soldiers returned home, some brought wives from the countries they had served, whom IIB welcomed and supported. As Americans learned of the horrors oppressive regimes abroad had inflicted on their people, with time, the U.S. government opened its borders to many people throughout Europe who had been threatened, imprisoned, and displaced by the war. The International Institute of Boston worked to resettle and integrate more than 10,000 people displaced by war.  

Even with these gains, however, by the early 1950s a rising fear of Communism along with continued racial and religious discrimination fueled a new batch of restrictive federal immigration laws. IIB fought against anti-immigrant legislation while continuing to reach out to new immigrant communities and holding fast to its commitment to help Boston’s immigrants preserve, share, and celebrate their cultures. 

Committing to Culture

Weaving and Ceramics Demonstration at the New England Folk Festival, 1944. Courtesy of New England Folk Festival Association.

In 1944, right before the end of WWII, then governor Morris J. Tobin held a Conference on Recreation, convening leaders from throughout the Commonwealth to discuss ways to relieve wartime stress and promote understanding between cultures. The International Institute answered the call, helping to organize and sponsor a Fall Folk Festival at its former headquarters, the Boston YWCA. Over two days, 200 Bostonians gathered to witness demonstrations of folk arts and crafts, performances of lively music and dance from a wide variety of immigrant communities, African American spirituals, and traditional music and dance from the Wampanoag and Navajo tribes. The Fall Folk Festival would grow into the New England Folk Festival, which was sponsored annually by IIB for the next 25 years.  

IIB took its role as a preserver and promoter of immigrants’ cultures very seriously. During this period, the Boston Council of Social Agencies conducted a study recommending that IIB discontinue its “nationality work”—which focused on strengthening immigrant communities through education and cultural activities—to focus strictly on the “technical issues” of the immigration and naturalization process. IIB protested, calling on its many allies in academia and government to submit letters in support of IIB continuing the full scope of its services. This campaign prevailed, convincing the Council to withdraw the recommendation, and IIB stayed true to its founding vision. In fact, IIB expanded its “nationality work” during this period, notably welcoming its first Black nationality group, the Liberian College Association, and convening a Chinese Club to support Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.  

Fighting for Fairness

While continuing its cultural and case work, IIB also returned to addressing workforce issues. Immigrants in Boston had long been vulnerable to exploitation in the workforce because of language barriers, prejudice, and lack of access to legal protection. From its earliest days in the 1920s, IIB mediated between immigrants and their employers to advocate for fair wages and treatment. When the U.S. government awarded Boston contracts for shipbuilding and production of ammunition and other products needed for war, many of Boston’s immigrants and their children heading back into once-shuttered factories faced exploitative conditions. In 1946, IIB successfully advocated for the Massachusetts Fair Employment Act which established the Fair Employment Practices Commission—a huge win for immigrant and all workers’ rights in Boston. The new commission could enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religious creed, national origin, or ancestry, and in 1950, its mandate was extended to housing and public accommodations.  

IIB also continued to advocate for fairness in immigration policy at the federal level.  In 1952, when Pauline Gardescu took the reins as the third Executive Secretary of the International Institute of Boston, she began her tenure by testifying before congress in opposition to the discriminatory (and ultimately adopted) racial and national origin quota proposed in the McCarran-Walter Act, which set limits by country on the number of immigrants that could be admitted into the U.S., heavily favoring those from northern and western Europe.  

Welcoming “War Brides”

Many Bostonian immigrants who fought in WWII returned home to new opportunity. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, later known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply the G.I. Bill, provided veterans with loan guarantees for home mortgages, money for college or vocational school, and unemployment compensation. The bill helped millions of European immigrants who had fought in the war, including many whom IIB had helped through poverty, to buy their first home in the U.S. and join its middle class.  

Returning soldiers also brought home spouses from the countries in which they had served. IIB welcomed these new Bostonians, helping them with immigration legal and naturalization services, and bringing them together for mutual support in weekly convenings of an “Overseas Wives Club.” IIB furthered its work on behalf of women immigrants through advocacy, fighting for gender equality to be enshrined in the federal immigration laws of the day.  

Providing Refuge to the Persecuted and Displaced

A Polish displaced person reflects on their experience in the U.S., from a 1950 edition of The International Beacon

By 1948, seven million Europeans had been displaced by the war, prompting the passage of the federal Displaced Persons Act, a pivot point for U.S. immigration and the work of IIB which was further expanded in 1950 to accommodate Jews who had fled Nazi atrocities. Supported by IIB, this was the first U.S. bill aimed specifically at granting entrance to immigrants forced from their home countries and prevented from returning for fear of violence or persecution. This bill led the U.S. to admit an initial 400,000 “displaced persons” (DPs) into the United States over and above immigration quotas provided they find a place to live and a job. 

Between 1948-1952, IIB led the way in resettling 10,000 Displaced Persons in Boston, sending interpreters to meet them as they arrived at Boston Harbor, finding sponsors to help more than 200 individuals with housing and employment, and providing support services. Other notable recipients of support were three so-called “Ravensburg Rabbits,” women who had survived medical experiments in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland and came to Boston seeking reconstructive surgery under the sponsorship of a group led by journalist Norman Cousins. IIB provided these brave survivors with housing, interpretation, and financial support. 

In 1951, the International Institute coordinated the “Special Project–International Refugee Organization (SPIRO)” which resettled more than forty families of displaced people who had disabilities or other challenges requiring special support. The following year, IIB expanded its English language classes to serve 2,500 Displaced People, and a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation enabled IIB to provide both English classes and job training for more than 600 refugees from Russia and the Ukraine by the end of 1953. Many of these new arrivals, along with refugees from China and Eastern Europe, were admitted under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, which authorized visas for those fleeing communist countries.  

Today, the International Institute and our supporters continue the legacy of advocating for fair immigration and employment policies and necessary resources for refugee resettlement, while working to make Boston a home for the displaced and the persecuted.  

During our centennial year, we celebrate 100 years of life-changing support to refugees and immigrants in Greater Boston and prepare for our second century of service. Learn more here: IINE Boston Centennial.

College Students Learn Refugee Resettlement by Lending Helping Hands

Northeastern RT Group

Colleges and universities define New England’s culture, bringing innovation and meaningful cultural exchange as they draw educators, researchers, and students from all over the world. For IINE, colleges and universities are important partners; professors and administrators collaborate on our vocational skills training programs and help IINE clients set educational goals. Many local students serve as interns, learning about the work behind the scenes while providing much-needed support to IINE’s staff. 

Now IINE is forging a new type of partnership with local colleges and universities: collaborating directly with students in classes on migration, international affairs, and international business to provide them with hands-on service-learning opportunities. The benefits are threefold: 

  • Refugee families get the support of driven young volunteers who are exploring their new city alongside them.  
  • IINE gets to help shape the next generation of welcomers and supporters. 
  • Participating students get to move beyond research to gain experience and make a tangible difference in the lives of refugees who need support in this pivotal stage.  

“The college students who come here to learn and the refugees who come here for a fresh start all renew and enrich our communities,” says IINE Volunteer and Community Sponsorship Coordinator Kate Waidler. “There’s much to be gained from bringing them together. It’s important for students who are really trying to understand international relations to meet some of the actual people they’re talking about when they’re discussing humanitarianism and victims of war, and it’s great for refugees to meet some people beyond case specialists— young people with different dreams and aspirations who are equally welcoming and want to learn how to help.”  

Kate recently developed partnerships with two universities in Boston while attending monthly meetings of the Supporting Higher Education in Refugee Resettlement project (SHERR), a service-learning-focused sub-group of a national network, and is proud that IINE is one of the first groups to move from theory to practice. “There was a sense from the group of ‘Wow! You’re already doing this!’ I realized that we’re pioneers.” 

Exchanging knowledge and skills with students at Northeastern

In the spring of 2024, IINE completed an inaugural partnership at Northeastern University (NU) working with students in its “Globalization and International Affairs” and “Cultural Aspects of International Business classes. The collaboration included NU classroom visits from IINE staff who trained students in aspects of refugee resettlement. Refugees and immigrants were also invited into the classrooms to participate in valuable discussions about their experiences finding work in a new country. Students engaged in multiple aspects of fieldwork, some traveling to IINE’s Boston office to tutor or teach while others provided hands-on assistance preparing to welcome new refugee arrivals.

Digital Literacy 

One group of NU students was tasked with giving refugees and immigrants with little technology experience a key to accessing IINE classes and services, navigating their communities, and succeeding in the workplace: basic digital literacy.  

Students designed and taught their own workshop to help IINE clients operate smartphones and Chromebooks to access and use needed programs and applications, including IINE’s online ESOL instruction platforms; and to write, edit, and search. Three sessions of the workshop were held for clients from Somalia, Cameroon, Haiti, Central African Republic, Guatemala, South Sudan, and Afghanistan, with interpretation provided in several languages. The project was designed and spearheaded by IINE AmeriCorps Volunteer Rosemary Barnett-Young. 

NU Student quote

“It was something I had both clients and staff express a need for,” says Rosemary, “so I was eager to get the classes up and running. In my own work with clients, I had some challenges with virtually helping explain how to join meetings online, etc. The Northeastern students were incredibly important in offering these classes in person. Clients said it was a great class, and it helped them learn many new things about computers. Many have reached out and expressed interest in follow-up computer classes.” 

Huskies Supporting Families: A Northeastern Student on Welcoming New Arrivals  

Two groups of Northeastern students took on the important task of preparing to welcome newly arriving refugees and making their first day in their new home a success, mirroring the work of IINE’s Resettle Together community sponsorship program. After completing initial training with IINE staff and online training with the Refugee Welcome Collective, a national organization supporting community sponsorship, each group was assigned to a family of incoming refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a few weeks to prepare. Their main tasks were to make sure their families’ first apartment in the U.S. would be fully hospitable and stocked with groceries, greet their families at Logan International Airport, make sure they got safely to their new home, and provide them with a warm, culturally appropriate first meal. 

Thomas Brulay, a second-year Northeastern student studying International Affairs and International Business was one of the students assigned to the Koufoukikas, a group of five siblings and an adult son. His group’s first task was to raise enough money for the Koufoukikas to afford their first month’s rent and security deposit. 

“Our fundraiser was called “Huskies Supporting Families,” Thomas says, explaining that the Huskies is the name of Northeastern’s sports teams and a nickname for their students.  

While he didn’t know much about the family he would be welcoming, Thomas’s own experience as a transplant to Boston helped him empathize with them. For example, Northeastern RT GroupWe handed them out some jackets for the Boston weather. It kind of reminded me of growing up in Miami, [where it was] always like 75-80° out, and then coming to Boston, especially in the winter, it’s like 25° outside, so I think I definitely had that in mind.” 

Thomas further related to the experience of the Koufoukikas as a first-generation American. His mother was born in Brazil and his father in Mexico. 

“The immigrant perspective [I have] because of my family really drove me to help these people. I think being born in the US and being able to speak English and get around—it’s great to be able to use my skills and my familiarity [to help].” 

In addition to speaking English, Thomas speaks Portuguese, Spanish, and a little bit of French, which came in handy when he met the Koufoukikas at the airport.  

“The family only spoke French, and I did take two years of French in high school, but I kind of forgot a lot.” He says with a smile. “I made an effort though to speak with them. They seemed confused when we met, like, ‘Who are these people?’ But I introduced myself and then they understood a little bit better. 

Thomas introduced the Koufoukikas to a driver hired by IINE. While the driver didn’t speak French, he held up his phone to show them a screen displaying the family’s name. Thomas says “their eyes lit up” when they saw it.  

“It definitely made me realize how hard it can be,” he reflects. You can be approached by anyone—it’s not always someone that’s trying to help you out. Their journey was so long, They were at Dulles [Airport] for like 8 hours, being  interrogated by American immigration officials, and they finally made it to Boston and were super tired—it was just great to be able to assist them, moving them into a comfortable place to sleep in Boston so they could start their new life—[it makes me] realize just how fortunate I am.” 

After the driver took the Koufoukikas to a motel where they would stay while their apartment was being prepared, Thomas went back to Northeastern with his team members. They used the dormitory kitchen to prepare the family a Congolese-style chicken dish for which he had found a recipe online, and then delivered it to them—his last duty as a resettlement volunteer.  

Thomas left his experience inspired and plans to volunteer more in the future. He offers this advice to other students who may be interested: 

“I’d say go for it! Maybe it can be a little bit scary at first, but try to put yourself in their shoes. You know, it’s so hard for, especially refugees, who, they’re just, looking for a better life and a better future.” 

University of Massachusetts Boston: Data Dictionary, Housing Handbook, and ESOL for Equality 

Over at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Boston, students in a class called, The Complex Landscape of Refugee Resettlement: Transnational Migration and Concurrent Realities,engaged in some other very practical projects with lasting impact 

Assessing Progress with a Data Dictionary   

After learning about the need from IINE staff, one group of UMass students developed what they called a “Data Dictionary,” a survey-based assessment tool to measure the effectiveness of IINE programs in helping refugees integrate into their new communities. Informed by their academic research, the diagnostic tool included questions for clients on how they were progressing in meeting their goals of achieving language skills, accessing public benefits, integrating into their new communities, achieving self-sufficiency, and progressing toward citizenship. The final tool was translated into two additional languages before being handed off to IINE case workers who now plan to pilot it with a family of refugee clients.  

A Housing-Search Handbook    

UMass Boston Resettlement volunteers worked on one of the first stages of the process—and one of the most challenging: finding affordable housing that’s walkable to key resources such as public transportation, grocery stores, and community centers, in a notoriously scarce housing market. After learning about the process and pitfalls of the housing search from IINE, the group of seven students set out to directly contact landlords to make their pitch about IINE clients as tenants, check availability and interest, and then pass on leads to IINE staff. They used information gleaned from the experience to help document and streamline the housing search, creating a spreadsheet that automates key listing information and a brochure full of useful tips and step-by-step instructions. 

Read IINE’s post on finding housing for refugees. 

“These resources are incredible!” says Kate, who supervised the project. “These students took the initiative, pushing through the intimidation factor of having informed, sensitive conversations, and handed us tools that make our work easier, and of course, greatly improve the lives of refugees making a fresh start here.” 

At the end of the project, students reflected on their learning and success. One student wrote,  

“This project really made me hone my research skills and learn how to be resourceful, and also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my position where housing isn’t an issue I have but is one I can help others with.”  

ESOL for Equality    

UMass Boston students in an English for Speakers of Other Languages cohort had the opportunity to step into the shoes of an instructor for some eager adult learners. Naming their project “ESOL for Equality,” each UMass Student was paired with one client currently on IINE’s ESOL waiting list. With training and guidance from IINE, they each designed and implemented an individualized course of study for their students and taught it over a semester.  

“These designs were really thoughtful and well executed!” says Kate. “Our ‘ESOL for Equality”’ instructors took the time to get to know their students’ goals and language levels and then helped teach the specific vocabulary they needed.”  

“One instructor wanted to meet her student at a local library, so she formed a relationship with the librarian, and as part of a class, helped her student get a library card. She also helped her open a bank account. Other instructors developed videos for the clients to help them drill lessons, worked with them over Zoom and coached them on digital literacy, played word games with them, and even took them on field trips to local museums! This went beyond English instruction, facilitating some great opportunities for social connections and cultural exchange.” 

Gianna Speaks, a UMass Boston Biochemistry major who served as an “ESOL for Equality” instructor and decided to continue as an IINE ESOL teacher when the project concluded, reflected, “Volunteering for ESOL was an eye-opening experience. It really allowed me to get a glimpse at the lives of refugees, and the similarities and differences in cultures and ways of life. It also gave me a peek into the struggles that come with having to adapt to a new language on top of everything else. It was very rewarding seeing how each lesson brought my client closer to their goals (getting a job/going to school).” 

•••

IINE is continuing to develop new forms of partnerships with higher education institutions. In April, IINE launched a pilot program at the Boston University Center for Forced Displacement. Instructors in the program are providing workshops for IINE case workers in refugee resettlement policy and practice, on the global and national levels, to broaden and contextualize their understanding of the field. The long-term goals of the initiative are to create a model that can be replicated by other universities and resettlement agencies and to create a credential for participants to help advance their careers.

With these first successes now in the books, IINE is excited to forge more partnerships with colleges and universities going forward, bringing together practitioners and researchers, and connecting the next wave of youth who have made their way to Boston to study with refugees who have come here seeking safety and a new start—all preparing for a bright future.

Get to Know Our Chief Human Resources Officer  

Our Chief Human Resources Officer Nina Nova-Duran reflects on IINE’s culture, how the organization has grown since she joined in 2021, and her advice for potential employees.   

Tell us about your path to the International Institute of New England.

I came to the role with over 20 years of experience in human resources and eight years of experience in operations management. I had previously been part of the executive team at Table Talk Pies, where I oversaw all three manufacturing facilities and corporate offices. In that role, I had a strong connection to the employees working on the ground floor, most of whom were immigrants. That aspect of my work was very rewarding – arranging ESOL classes, offering professional development opportunities, and strengthening career paths so these employees could stay and grow with us.  

When I learned about the role at IINE, I was excited for the opportunity to bring my experience—specifically around strategic planning, creating culture change, and growing rapidly—to an entirely new sector, and most of all, to a mission I was immediately drawn to.  

I also grew up in IINE’s backyard, basically! My parents and I immigrated to Roxbury, MA from the Dominican Republic when I was five years old. I always think about how if my parents had known about IINE—and had received the help, ESOL classes, employment support, etc. that IINE provides—their experience in the U.S. would have been so different. I’m glad to be part of an organization helping people like my parents to find a fresh start in their new country.  

How has the organization evolved since you first joined? 

When I first arrived at IINE, there were around 60 full-time and part-time staff and around 30 on-call. Two and a half years later, we have tripled in size. We have added new Programs staff to our Boston, Lowell, and Manchester offices; expanded the Unaccompanied Children’s Program by building a whole new team in New York; and ensured all of these new staff have the support they need by hiring additional roles across the Finance, Operations, HR, and Advancement departments. While growing the organization, we have also focused on diversifying our staff to reflect the client populations we serve. When I first started at IINE, the organization was welcoming hundreds of Afghan evacuees. We were able to identify several clients with strong professional backgrounds, who we were then able to hire as full-time staff. Currently, we are supporting thousands of Haitian immigrants, and have hired many to the team. They join us with a unique understanding of our mission, the immigrant process, and our client’s cultures and backgrounds. Today, 48% of our staff were born outside of the U.S. 

In addition to offering us a chance to diversify our staff, our growth has allowed us to strengthen our policies and infrastructure. I’m proud that we have been able to equip our staff with the tools and training needed to advance in their careers, so we can frequently promote from within.  

How would you describe IINE’s culture? 

Everyone is very genuine about their commitment to the mission. Our work isn’t easy, but our staff are so dedicated. They truly care about helping refugees and immigrants, and we make sure to celebrate and recognize that.  

We also know how to have fun! It’s so important that people have an opportunity to get out of their shells, express their unique personalities, and get to know each other. Our quarterly in-person events allow everyone to disconnect from work and enjoy themselves.  

Staff Photos

Those events are also an important tool for fostering a sense of community across our three sites and virtual staff. My team is always thinking about how we can build relationships and communication across the organization. Part of that is ensuring the HR team is always present and reachable. We make a point of attending staff meetings at each of our sites and regularly sharing updates on policies, events, resources, etc. It’s important that all staff feel engaged and informed.  

What do you look for in potential employees? 

I look for candidates who display what we call our Core Competencies: 

  • An ability to collaborate effectively and compassionately and consider the impact of one’s actions on others 
  • A commitment to excellence and to bringing one’s best to work every day 
  • A desire to continuously improve and the ability to embrace challenges as the fuel for learning 
  • An awareness of culture, bias, and privilege, and a desire to seek out insights and perspectives from under-represented voices 
  • An ability to communicate effectively and respectfully with everyone they encounter 
  • A genuine belief in IINE’s mission, which drives all of our work 

In addition to our core competencies, I look for candidates who are innovative, eager to bring ideas to the table, and who are excited at the prospect of growing with the organization.  

What advice would you give someone interested in joining IINE? 

This might seem obvious, but do your homework! Understand our mission and our clients, and then help me understand how your vision and passions align with our work. The cover letter, in particular, is a great opportunity to capture your experience and interests. Sometimes a resume doesn’t tell the full story, especially if you do not have direct experience for the role, so I always advise candidates to use the cover letter to sell themselves. 

Anything else you would like to share with our readers? 

I’d like to say how grateful I am to work beside such collaborative, insightful professionals – both on my team and across the organization. We are only as strong as the people we have around us, and I really value the feedback, insights, and perspectives of my colleagues. It makes IINE a special place to work!  

HR Team
From L to R: Talent Acquisition Specialist Courtney Good, Chief Human Resources Officer Nina Nova-Duran, HR Coordinator Jayne Cormier, Senior HRIS Generalist Lisa Stewart

Interested in joining our team? Our collaborative, team-oriented environment offers opportunities to serve refugees and immigrants, while learning from other staff and departments. View career opportunities here.

Nazia’s Story: An Afghan Refugee’s Relentless Commitment to Education and Hope

Nazia Blog Banner

The hardest and most important job

Growing up in Afghanistan, Nazia developed a true passion for teaching at a young age. She became an English instructor when she was in 10th grade, and for years, continued teaching for little or no money, eager to gain experience.  

“Teaching has been my dream job. In our country, people don’t have a good perspective about teaching – they think it’s a simple job, but it’s the hardest and most important job. A doctor once had a teacher. A president once had a teacher.”   

With time, Nazia became successful and well-known in her profession. While completing her university degree in education, she taught English to both children and university students, and then after graduating, accepted a role teaching adult learners online. With hard work and sacrifice, she had built a life for herself doing what she loved. 

 

A dark cloud 

Then, the Taliban came and took it all away. It was 2021, and Kabul had fallen in what felt like an instant.  

“[Women] lost the right to get an education and have a job. We couldn’t travel alone, we had to have a guardian. It felt like a really big, dark cloud had come over our country and it was not going to move away. It made everything dark. You felt like thunder was going to hit you; the thunder was the Taliban.” 

As a woman, it was now illegal for Nazia to teach. It took her a full year to find an opportunity to do so anywaya decision which came with real peril.

“Taliban were living in our neighborhood, so when I taught, I would close all the windows and doors. I felt afraid they would hear my voice talking in English, and I would cause danger for my family.” 

The Taliban did their best to fan the flames of her fear. 

“Two separate times, I received a WhatsApp message from an unknown number with a profile picture of the Taliban, asking me ‘Have you started teaching again?’ I deleted the message and blocked the account. It was terrifying, but I didn’t stop because there were a lot of women who needed education, they needed a light in the darkness. My class was not only for teaching English, it was to give students motivation to be brave, to never lose hope.” 

Nazia did not give up. In fact, she wanted to do more. She decided to start a social support and education group for fellow women living under the Taliban, which she named “Lifesaver Girls.” It took her many tries to find an education center brave enough to host this illegal gathering, but with perseverance, she was able to convene one meeting. She felt she had to. 

“After the Taliban took over, most of the girls got disappointed and depressed. This group motivated them. When they first came to the meeting, you could feel the hopelessness and [see] deep sorrow in their faces. We talked about some successful women who did their best in the hardest situations, and we introduced them to online ways to get an education. At the end of the session, you could see the brightness of hope in their eyes.”  

A really hard night 

Nazia had been living in Ghazni, a city about two hours from Kabul. In December of 2023, she received a call from the organization that was helping to evacuate her from Afghanistan. They told her to be in Kabul the next morning. Women were not allowed to travel alone, so she set off with her father. They waited 14 days before being evacuated to Pakistan. Then they had to walk an hour in the middle of the night to meet the driver who would take them to Pakistan and then to Qatar.  

“It was a really hard night. It was so stressful. At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Taliban checked all of the stuff we had and asked ‘Where are you going? Are you going to a foreign country?’ I told them ‘No, I’m sick.’ My father was pushing me in a wheelchair so they would believe me.” 

Nazia told the Taliban that another male relative was waiting for her at the border, so that her father was able to leave her. Then she was alone. She was checked by the Taliban four separate times. When she got to Pakistan, she stayed three nights before being evacuated to a camp in Qatar. It was a difficult period.  

“It was like you are in a big jail. You are not allowed to go out of the camp. I was stressed that my case wouldn’t be accepted, and I would think about how I would live in Afghanistan. I would be arrested for leaving the country alone.”  

After 28 days, Nazia’s case was approved. She arrived in Boston in January 2024.  

Learning how to walk 

Nazia with IINE Career Navigator Emma Pond

Within one week of her arrival in Boston, Nazia enrolled in services at the International Institute of New England (IINE). Case Workers quickly helped her get her social security card, enroll in food benefits and health care, and acquire her work permit. IINE’s Education and Employment teams helped her to write a resume, begin searching for jobs, and explore opportunities to pursue a master’s degree. She was also invited to a monthly support group for fellow Afghan women to meet, socialize, share advice, and explore their new city together.  

IINE’s Afghan Women’s Group in Boston

Nazia says that the people she meets at IINE are “really kind and helpful. I’m really thankful.” She is adjusting to life in Boston and learning how to navigate new challenges with IINE’s help.  

“It has some hardships. I’m getting used to a new environment—living without my family, traveling alone—but it is an interesting experience. Nowadays, I’m like a baby trying to walk, standing and falling down, but still not losing hope. The baby is sure they will learn how to walk even though it is hard. Here in the U.S., I’m learning how to walk. IINE is helping me to learn.”  

Finding the light 

Even before she came to the U.S., Nazia had dreamed of pursuing a master’s degree and then a PhD at Harvard University. Now this dream feels closer. 

I came to Boston by chance— it’s a really beautiful coincidence. I want to get my master’s and PhD in [Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages], and one day, become a professor. Everyone says being a Harvard student would be hard; I agree it’s hard, but it is not impossible.” 

Nazia is also a writer. She has already had some success—a short story published on the website of a university in Iowa. She’s writing more short stories and hopes to write a romance novel one day. One thing’s for sure: nothing will stop her from striving for her dreams. It’s not easy, but she knows she now has support—and freedom.  

“In our country, we couldn’t go out after 5 p.m. Here, I can. I feel safe. There is no Taliban here, no one that will restrict me from following my dreams. When I have a hard time and miss my country, I walk around, and I see beautiful smiles. I feel ‘this might be hard, but I’m in a good environment… ‘I believe that when something is hard, it makes you the real version of you. There might be moments you feel down, like nothing is going to get right, but still in that moment, we can find the light.”  

We are proud to have welcomed, resettled, and supported refugees in the New England region for over 100 years. Learn more about our refugee resettlement work here.

The Importance of Nuance and Empathy: Highlighting IINE’s Pinpoint Interpretation Program

When you need a translator in order to be understood, trust is everything.

There’s real vulnerability in relying on someone to accurately relay your meaning, tone, and intention in a language you don’t understand—and there’s security and comfort in being able to trust that your interpreter is both skilled and caring enough to get it right.

Through Pinpoint, IINE’s in-house interpretation service, IINE staff frequently rely on interpreters of speech and translators of text with these qualities to help refugees and immigrants access services, secure housing, and apply for jobs.  

Because IINE understands how important this service is in helping newcomers to integrate, and in helping their new communities get the most from their resources and skills, Pinpoint also provides low-cost language services to other nonprofits, schools, hospitals, and community partners. Services include on-site interpretation, remote (phone and video) interpretation on-demand, and document translation services for immigration documents, all in over 300 languages. 

In 2023, Pinpoint provided 3,000 hours of interpretation for more than 1,400 clients.

All revenue generated is reinvested in IINE’s programs and services for immigrants and refugees. For Tram Fultz, who manages Pinpoint, this reinvestment is one of the most important reasons for clients to choose the service.

Tram Fultz, Pinpoint Services Manager

“I think that if you’re mission-minded; invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion; and interested in having your work reflect the changing demographics of our country, then you want to use organizations that represent that to the fullest amount possible.”  

Tram points out that Pinpoint supports IINE’s mission even further through its hiring practices: “We try to employ our refugee and immigrant clients to give them that leg up into the middle-to-upper reaches of our economic society.” 

One important part of working within IINE and hiring IINE clients is the deep empathy that Pinpoint translators bring to their work. Tram points to a recent experience working with pro bono lawyers to assist Afghan and Haitian families in applying for asylum as illustrative of this compassion.  

 “The feedback that we’ve gotten on our interpreters is that they’re very sensitive. That’s so important because just the very nature of the fact that you have to seek asylum means something really, really terrible happened.” 

Pinpoint testimonial

It’s easy for Tram to empathize with Pinpoint’s clients as well. Tram was born in Vietnam, and her father met her mother shortly after escaping from a reeducation camp. When Tram was very young, she and her family fled to the U.S. as refugees. She remembers very well what it was like to be a non-native speaker suddenly immersed in a foreign culture and expected to succeed. 

“I was six years old, and I didn’t know any English at all—maybe I could say ‘hello,’ but that was about it—and I went to the first grade [in Connecticut]. There were no interventions. There was nobody that even had the capacity to psychologically understand what learning a new language would be like. I remember looking around in the lunchroom for someone who looked like me and coming up with nothing. And I spoke no English. So, that whole first year of first grade, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t understand what was happening. But by the time I repeated the 1st grade the next year, I had enough mastery of the language to get the kind of grades expected of me by my family.” 

“On top of all that, my family didn’t speak English either, so I was basically the translator at, you know, seven years old.” 

These experiences especially have brought Tram to view translation services as far more than a practical matter. 

“Speaking in one’s mother tongue, with all of its intricacies, is really important. If we lived in a perfect world, it should actually be a right. We should have the right to be able to communicate in languages that we understand. That’s why in all the sci-fi, everybody has some implantable device so that they can automatically communicate, and other people can receive what they’re saying.” 

Tram believes that when clients choose Pinpoint, whether they’re hospitals, municipalities, or individuals, they are making an important moral choice. They’re choosing honesty and accessibility.  

“It means that they’re trying to look at people holistically, rather than at a demographic level, and we’re proud to provide them with support.” 

Juan, one of Pinpoint’s interpreters, fully shares in this sense of mission.

“I cherish every single encounter [with a client],” he says. “It’s the satisfaction of knowing that someone is able to be assisted.” 

Juan, an IINE Interpreter

Juan was born in Colombia. He moved to the U.S. when he was 22 years old with his mother, who does not speak English. Like Tram, his experience as a translator began with helping his family. He says he was drawn to Pinpoint “as a way of applying what I know to help bridge communication for folks like my mother, especially in a medical setting.” 

While he translates for a wide variety of clients, including legal, educational, and corporate, Juan is particularly passionate about interpreting in a medical setting because of his own professional background. Juan was once a medical technician in the New Hampshire National Guard and now primarily works as a physician’s assistant at a medical center in NH.  

Part of what he finds gratifying about interpreting in a medical setting is that he understands the stakes, having had past experiences in which he felt that highly important information was not being translated accurately when people were in great need of help. He says, “It is a good feeling when [it’s] not just interpreting, but also making sure [people] understand.”  Juan’s empathy and dedication have led his clients to request him again and again. 

Juan emphasizes that he translates for Pinpoint not necessarily because he needs this work—he mostly translates on his days off from his primary job—but because he finds it so fulfilling. “I truly enjoy that people feel informed,” he says.

Pinpoint connects communities and cultures through language. Learn more about our interpretation and translation services. 

Dispelling 10 Common Myths About Immigrants and Refugees

By Alexandra Weber, Senior Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer at the International Institute of New England

Public conversations around immigration policy are becoming more heated, politicized, and, dangerously, filled with inaccuracies. Educating ourselves on immigration policy, the immigration process, the level of support refugees and immigrants receive, and how they pay that support back in dividends—and then sharing this information with others—can help create a more honest narrative and a warmer welcome for newcomers. Here’s a breakdown of some common misunderstandings corrected with nonpartisan facts and figures

1. Myth: It’s easy to enter and remain in the U.S. 

Reality: The legal immigration process is arduous, complicated, and backloggedand many of the rules change in response to current events and political considerations. 

  • For refugees, the process to come to the U.S. is offered to very few, entails multiple steps, including an extensive vetting process, and often takes years to achieve (see our blog post, “Explainer: The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program” to learn more).
     
  • For many other immigrants eligible for U.S. entry, the complexity and cost of the application process is intense. Many allowed to enter are given only a temporary opportunity to stay and those hoping for longer-term protection must fight uphill battles to adjust their initial status to a more permanent status that allows them to remain in the country.
     
  • Once an individual files the application for citizenship, which cannot happen until at least five years after receiving a green card, they often have to wait years more. In 2012, the average processing time from citizenship application to approval was 4.6 months. Today, the wait has tripled in length to 15.5 months. 

2. Myth: Immigrants are more likely to be criminals.  

Reality: The opposite is true. 

  • Statistically, immigrants residing in the U.S. are less likely to be criminals. A recent study analyzing 150 years of U.S. Census data shows that immigrants have never been incarcerated at a higher rate than U.S.-born individuals. The gap has widened since 1960, and immigrants today are 60% less likely to be incarcerated than U.S.-born citizens.
     
  • Furthermore, crime rates actually decreased as immigration grew in 200 U.S. cities from 1970 to 2019.
     
  • While Fentanyl trafficking in the U.S. has been persistently blamed on immigrants, this claim is false. As recently reported by the New Hampshire Bulletin, “In 2022, U.S. Sentencing Commission data showed that Americans accounted for nearly 90 percent of convicted fentanyl drug traffickers, and 96 percent of fentanyl seizures occurred at official ports of entry, not along migration routes between checkpoints, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports analyzed by the Washington Post.” 

crime rates actually decreased as immigration grew in 200 U.S. cities from 1970 to 2019.

3. Myth: Refugees and immigrants receive an unfair level of support from the government and are a drain on the U.S. economy. 

Reality: The support new arrivals receive is extremely limited. Additionally, most refugees and immigrants enter the U.S. workforce immediately upon becoming eligible and then go on to contribute tremendously to our economy, giving back far more than they ever received 

  • Refugees and persecuted populations receive only basic support on arrival through public programs such as food stamps. Most begin their lives in the U.S. with extremely limited resources. Public support received by these families is temporary and requires participation in the U.S. workforce. Initial support is also repaid many times over as families contribute to the economy and tax base immediately and, if allowed to stay, across a lifetime.
     
  • Newcomers strengthen our workforce, filling roles in healthcare, STEM, construction, environmental services, and more, and 22% of entrepreneurs nationwide were born outside of the U.S. According to a 2021 report from the American Immigration Council, immigrants in the U.S. have a collective spending power of $1.4 trillion and paid $525 billion in taxes each year.
     
  • In many New England states, immigrants are the key and often only strategy to combatting a shrinking workforce and community. Our local and national economies depend on immigrants. In fact, according to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute, “Immigrants and their U.S.-born children accounted for all U.S. civilian labor force growth in the past two decades.  

4. Myth: Immigrants take jobs from other Americans.

Reality: This is a falsehood often used to pit vulnerable groups against one another and divert focus from policies that exploit and undervalue workers. It is untrue on many levels. 

  • “The Lump of Labor Fallacy” is a term economists use for the misconception that there is only a fixed number of jobs to be had in the U.S., implying that newcomers would need to take or limit opportunities from U.S.-born individuals. As a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute shows: “the idea that immigrants are making things worse for U.S.-born workers is wrong. The reality is that the labor market is absorbing immigrants at a rapid pace, while simultaneously maintaining record-low unemployment for U.S.-born workers.”
     
  • Far from stealing jobs, immigrants often take on taxing jobs that other Americans are not willing to do. As the Brookings Institution has stated: “The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low… However, [immigrant] workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do.”
     
  • We currently have more job openings than qualified applicants to fill them both nationwide and in New England, including dangerous labor shortages in healthcare fields. 
     
  • The future of our labor force depends on immigration. As the U.S. birthrate steadily declines, immigrants are vital to growing the labor force. According to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute, “With U.S. birth rates falling, the immigrant-origin population has been a vital source of growth for the U.S. population in the past two decades. Without immigrants and their U.S.-born children, the prime working-age population (ages 25–54) would have shrunk by more than 8 million people and the population of children and young adults under age 24 would have shrunk by more than 5 million people between 2000 and 2023.”  

5. Myth: Today’s immigrants don’t want to learn English.    

Reality: Most immigrants are extremely eager to learn English in order to navigate their communities, advocate for themselves and their families, and enter and succeed in the workforce as quickly as possible. Here in New England, every language instruction provider, including IINE, has long waiting lists for our free ESOL classes. Due to budget cuts, providers currently fill less than 10% of demand for these classes. 

6. Myth: U.S. asylum policies are causing a crisis. If the U.S. ended or restricted peoples’ rights to enter the U.S. seeking a safe haven from persecution and violence, we wouldn’t have unmanageable immigration surges. 

Reality: People seeking freedom from persecution and violence will do whatever they can to reach safety. Attempts to restrict their ability to apply for legal protection, such as Title 42 and “Remain in Mexico, have not stopped or slowed attempts; in fact, attempts have grown exponentially during the implementation of these policies, which have done nothing to address the root causes of displacement. Restrictions merely backlog the legal process by millions of cases and remove protections for an extremely vulnerable population, exposing them to further persecution and violence.  

7. Myth: Supposed asylum-seekers are really just coming here for jobs.

Reality: When people attempt to claim asylum, they have to prove that they face persecution or have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries that prevents them from returning.  

  • Most are fleeing repressive regimes and destabilization that threaten their lives. They make impossibly dangerous journeys to come to the U.S., jeopardizing the safety of their families and themselves—a risk they would never take if there was a better choice. Often arriving with few financial resources and immense language and cultural barriers, they begin their lives in the U.S. facing tremendous challenges.
     
  • This myth persists in large part because our current immigration legal system is so under-resourced that pending asylum cases stretch into the millions, and once started, can take as long as five years to complete.
     
  • Asylum is far from guaranteed and the uncertainty surrounding the process can be frightening and destabilizing. This is not a situation one would seek for any reason other than dire necessity.  

8. Myth: Immigrants are being imported by the Democratic Party to sway election results.

Reality: This harmful conspiracy theory has no basis in fact or logic.  

  • It takes many years for immigrants to gain eligibility to vote, and any claims that immigrants have voted who were not eligible to do so have been proven false by voting records.
     
  • Immigrants are not a homogeneous group, and the idea that future immigration will necessarily favor the Democratic Party falsely assumes that most immigrants vote the same way, or even that most immigrants from the same regions vote the same way, and that their political loyalties are unchangeable. Various claims that immigration has significantly favored the Democratic Party in elections have also been disproven.
     
  • In many cases, this conspiracy theory is predicated on a false assumption that immigrants simply vote based on immigration policy. Like most American voters, immigrants vote based on a range of issues that affect their quality of life and align with their diverse values.  

Any claims that immigrants have voted who were not eligible to do so have been proven false

9. Myth: Refugees and immigrants bring culture, ideology, or ideas that are harmful to the U.S

Reality: Immigrants most often come to the U.S. because of their affinity for its economic and governing principles, not in spite of them.  

10. Myth: The U.S. prioritizes services for refugees and immigrants more than for its own military veterans. 

Reality: It is counterproductive and illogical to artificially pit these priorities against one another, but if a comparison is called for, the investment is not even close.  

  • The U.S. allocated $303.8 billion to the Veterans Administration in 2023, compared to $1.7 billion to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and $913.6 million for the entire U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department.  

Another variant of this myth is that U.S. values dictate that it should not do anything to help refugees and asylum seekers until it has helped all underserved U.S. Veterans. 

  • This ignores the important facts that many veterans are themselves former immigrants and that immigrants have always been important contributors to U.S. military efforts.
     
  •  It is also counter to one of the key values our military fights to defend—that the U.S. is a defender of freedom and democracy and safe haven from repression and anti-democratic forces.  

• • •

Welcoming refugees and immigrants strengthens U.S. communities, our cultural diversity, our economy, our integrity as a defender of freedom, our global standing, and our unique identity as a pluralistic nation. Dispelling myths is an important way to make their pathways easier.  

Thank you for your interest in supporting refugees and immigrants in our community. Learn more about these issues by subscribing to our newsletter and following us on social media 

The International Institute of New England Receives Historic Philanthropic Gift from Bancel Philanthropies

Bancel Philanthropies’ pledge of $6,000,000 marks the largest single philanthropic gift in IINE history 

BOSTON April 25, 2024 – The International Institute of New England (IINE) has announced it has received the largest single philanthropic gift in organizational history from Bancel Philanthropies. The gift of $6,000,000 — $1,000,000 per year over six years — will be used to assist IINE in providing life-changing support services to refugees and immigrants rebuilding their lives in the New England region.  

This historic gift comes at a time when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been working diligently to integrate a growing number of immigrant families. For decades, IINE has implemented and honed a proven community-driven integration model, bringing both the operational and economic advantages of immigrant integration to the Commonwealth. With this additional funding from Bancel Philanthropies, IINE’s services, such as legal assistance, housing support, and case management services, will allow the organization to further advocate for permanent housing solutions, expedited work authorizations, and expanded support systems and services to help families achieve stability. 

“This gift is an incredible show of confidence in the work we do every day to meet the needs of the refugees and immigrants in our care and in the enduring importance of our mission,” said Jeff Thielman, president and CEO of the International Institute of New England. “Bancel Philanthropies shares our belief in advocating for the human rights, protection, and support of refugees and immigrants. With these funds, IINE will be able to further expand its support services and programs to help the growing number of new arrivals who urgently need support from our whole community to build a life here.”

Bancel Philanthropies is the family philanthropy of Brenda and Stéphane Bancel and invests in people and programs with the potential to transform lives, advance justice, and heal communities. Stéphane Bancel, an immigrant from France and the CEO of Moderna Therapeutics, was honored as IINE’s Golden Door Award recipient in 2022, a prestigious award given annually to a leader born outside the United States who has made outstanding contributions to American society. 

“Stéphane and I are inspired by organizations like the International Institute of New England that are helping those in need and enriching our society as a result,” Brenda Bancel said. “We’re honored to offer our support, which will allow IINE to continue making a real difference for refugees and immigrants in New England. Having witnessed firsthand IINE’s ability to unite the community in service of their clients, we have complete confidence that our contribution will allow them to advocate for our new community members’ rights, safety, and success even more effectively. “

As one of the longest-established and most trusted social service organizations in the region, IINE serves thousands of individuals and families annually. This gift from Bancel Philanthropies will allow IINE to increase its services and offerings to serve more than 20,000 immigrants in 2024, which is critical in responding to the large influx of Haitian and Central and South American families arriving homeless in Massachusetts. 

ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF NEW ENGLAND

The International Institute of New England (IINE) creates opportunities for refugees and immigrants to succeed through resettlement, education, career advancement, and pathways to citizenship. With locations in Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire, IINE serves more than 10,000 individuals annually, including people displaced by political instability, violence, and climate crises, child and adult survivors of human trafficking, and unaccompanied children joining family members in New England. IINE offers a comprehensive range of programs and services to help these newcomers feel welcome, achieve stability and security, access resources in their new communities, advance their education and employment goals, and integrate into their communities. IINE’s expertise builds on more than a century of service, and with continued partnership from community groups and support from philanthropists throughout New England, IINE will continue this service for the next 100 years and beyond. 

ABOUT BANCEL PHILANTHROPIES 

Bancel Philanthropies is the family philanthropy of Brenda and Stéphane Bancel, and invests in people and programs with the potential to transform lives, advance justice and heal communities. Our goal is to fully exert our belief in the goodness of humanity through building relationships with community leaders. We fund projects that speak to the fundamental emotion that nurtures us through hardship and sustains the human heart: love. Our funding priorities are creating equitable access to education, increasing food security, reducing health inequities, bolstering interfaith initiatives, reducing racial inequities, supporting trauma survivors and vulnerable communities, improving youth mental health and social isolation, and stewarding sustainable conservation and food systems. To learn more, visit bancelphilanthropies.org. 

Q&A With Board Member Libby May

A member of the International Institute of New England’s Board of Directors since 2021, Libby May is a communications executive specializing in K-12 education and higher education issues. She currently serves as the Chief External Affairs and Communications Officer for Southern New Hampshire University, where her work includes internal and external communications, media relations, events, alumni engagement, community relations, and government affairs. Libby supports IINE’s continued growth through her deep commitment to strengthening the Greater Manchester community and ensuring more equitable opportunities for all.  

We spoke with Libby to learn more about her passion for welcoming refugees and immigrants, how she strives to be an effective board member, and what excites her most about IINE’s future.  

Can you share a bit about yourself? 

I grew up in Washington, DC and spent most of my career there, working with nonprofit and advocacy organizations in the field of communications. So, I’m not a New England native, but I was drawn here for my current role—as the Chief External Affairs and Communications Officer for Southern New Hampshire University—which I have held for the past nine years.  

I’m really proud and feel very lucky to work with nonprofits. My first job out of college was at a PR firm, and I didn’t love it. I remember someone telling me around that time, “Think about what gets you out of bed in the morning and follow that instinct.” It was the best professional advice I have ever received. For me, the answer was clear: working with nonprofits to tell their stories and bring more good into the world. There’s nothing better than working beside passionate individuals to further a mission.  

Another big part of my background is that I am a mom to two young kids. Raising them has fueled my work – in education and the nonprofit space, as a whole. I want to help build diverse, welcoming communities for them to grow up in.  

Tell us about your journey to the International Institute of New England.  

In 2017, Southern New Hampshire University opened the Center for New Americans to serve the needs of immigrants in Greater Manchester. We wanted to acknowledge that there were many other groups in the area supporting this population, while identifying opportunities for us to fill in any gaps. We began to partner with other organizations to provide language, education, and wellness support – this was my first introduction to the International Institute of New England.  

From the start, I was so impressed by the organization’s commitment to providing wraparound programming. When an opportunity came around to join the Board, I was excited to become even more connected to the community.  

What do you consider the most important contributions of a board member? 

I think one of the most important things a board member can do is lean in. Read the materials, understand the team’s work, ask great questions, be there and be involved.  

I think particularly with nonprofits, which don’t tend to have large staffs or budgets, board members can really make a difference. In a way, I use my expertise  to be an unpaid consultant. So whether that means helping brainstorm A/B tests we can run on email campaigns or weighing in on social media vendors, I try to draw on my professional expertise and act as a voice of support.  

As a board member, I always try to listen to the team and voice that their work matters – it’s powerful for people.  

Looking forward, what excites you most about IINE’s future? 

I’m so proud of how IINE is always willing to pivot to meet the needs of the populations they serve. I loved watching IINE create programming for Afghan women—how they recognized the women’s unique needs by asking the right questions and brought together people and resources so organically. The staff at IINE are genuinely curious. They ask, “What can and should we be doing differently?” Seeing this adaptability makes me hopeful about the organization’s future.   

Of course, I’m especially excited about the work in New Hampshire specifically. As I shared, I’m not from New Hampshire, but I have come to really respect the grit of the people here. The NH nonprofit community, in particular, is made up of incredible, hard-working people who are doing collaborative, boots-on-the-ground work to support new arrivals. I walk into a building every day where I’m reminded that this state was built on the backs of immigrants. For folks in New Hampshire, no matter how many generations removed they may be from when their families first came here, they remember those journeys, and they recognize the determination and strength it takes to come here, put down roots, and build a life. I think New Hampshire folks see themselves in immigrants – we all share the desire to work hard to support ourselves and our families.  

What inspires your philanthropy? 

My parents always instilled in me that as members of a community, it’s our duty to give back. You don’t walk through a door without holding it open for the person behind you. You never know when you will need someone else to hold the door for you.  

It’s these values that have fueled my work with nonprofits and my philanthropy overall. It’s what I aim to instill in my young kids as well. They’ll tell you, Mom always says you can be anything in the world, just have a kind heart. We all have a responsibility to give back to the world that we live in.  

IINE’s Board of Directors includes corporate and community leaders from across New England. View our members and leadership team here.

1935-1944 – “Don’t Condemn—Understand”

“100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial” Series:
Installment #3

Welcome to the third installment of our series, “100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial.” The previous installment, 1924-1934 – Fostering Community,” described how the newly formed International Institute of Boston (IIB) provided a space to celebrate and support the city’s immigrant communities during a period of restricted immigration and economic hardship  

In the mid-1930s to mid-1940s, the International Institute of Boston navigated the Great Depression and the Second World War—a roiling sea of economic pressure, fear of both real and imagined enemies, and competing views of national loyalty.  

During this period, IIB found ways to help U.S. soldiers in Boston and U.S. allies abroad; Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis; and immigrants from the Axis countries of Japan, Italy, and Germany, while also pushing back against the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act and serving Boston’s Chinese community.  

This remarkable balancing act began with a declaration of independence. 

More International and “truly American” 

IIB’s first International Ball, held at the Statler Hotel in 1938. Photograph by Richard Merrill, courtesy of the Boston Public Library and the Digital Commonwealth.

At the beginning of the 1930’s, the International Institute of Boston had moved its offices from Boston’s YWCA at which it was founded, to its own offices on Beacon Street and expanded its initial focus from serving immigrant women and girls to serving all immigrants, with “Nationality Workers” drawn from Boston’s immigrant communities continuing to work directly with clients. 

In 1935, IIB’s newsletter, The International Beacon, informed its membership that it was “eager to be even more ‘international’ and at the same time more truly American than ever before.”  

First, it fully shed its association with the Boston’s Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). It would now be an “organization representative of men and women of various races, nations, and creeds,” governed by a board of directors that included members of the city’s immigrant community. This move would separate IIB from any singular religious affiliation in order to best serve immigrants of all faiths. As the Beacon explained, “the emergence of new American civic leaders,” from Boston’s immigrant communities, would enable IIB to welcome “young men and women of education and initiative” as “members and leaders as well as participants in activities.” 

Second, expanding its connection to community partners, the newly independent IIB joined the Boston Council of Social Agencies, and solidifying its commitment to the national movement from which it emerged, joined the National Institute for Immigrant Welfare, later to be called the American Federation of International Institutes 

Third, there was some organizational rebuilding to do. Throughout the 1930s, the ravages of the Great Depression had led to significant cutbacks, including a reduction of staff. To recover, IIB founding Executive Secretary Georgia Ely launched the first International Institute of Boston Ball at the lavish Statler hotel. This festive fundraiser helped rally supporters to its cause by celebrating the contributions of Boston’s immigrant community. The event showcased international fashion, cuisine, and dance.  

Continuing its commitment to cultural pluralism, in 1937 Marion Blackwell became IIB’s second Executive Secretary. An apt spokesperson for the International Institute movement, she wrote in a letter to the editor of Harenik, Boston’s Armenian newspaper, “I believe it is disastrous to sever old-country traditions and ties, and I do not believe in the melting pot idea which would make all people in America of one kind.” Independent and immigrant-driven, IIB reinforced the value of the diversity of those it welcomed and served. 

Don’t Condemn—Understand!

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, under Marion Blackwell’s leadership, the International Institute of Boston continued to fiercely oppose discrimination against foreigners through advocacy. It successfully lobbied against proposed cruel and inhumane federal immigration legislation which, preying on the economic fears of the Depression, would have deported immigrants receiving government relief and created prison camps for those who could not be deported.  

As the Second World War stoked mistrust of immigrants—specifically those from the Axis countries of Germany, Italy, and Japan—the International Institute of Boston was quick to defend them. In a note “From the Executive’s Desk” in its International Beacon newsletter, Marion Blackwell wrote, “DON’T CONDEMN—UNDERSTAND! This is the key word of International Institute philosophy…War necessitates certain regulations but does not require us as individuals to lose a sense of proportion. [We have] always espoused the cause of the less understood groups of foreign cultures.”  

When activists could not ultimately prevent the U.S. government from creating wartime internment camps, the International Institute of Boston focused its efforts on supporting the reintegration of those who had been interred. In the early 1940s, IIB helped form the Nisei Hospitality Committee to assist Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans released from the camps. The International Institute housed the Committee, which aided roughly 600 camp evacuees in finding emergency housing and other vital services in Boston. It also worked to connect relocated internees, most of whom were students, with Nisei and Issei (first- and second-generation) Japanese families in Boston.  

Multiple Fronts of Support in Wartime

As the U.S. entered the war against fascist forces abroad, Boston bustled with mobilization efforts. The Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown became the designated production site for destroyer ships and a hub for navy ship repairs of all kinds. An army base in South Boston sent supply ships to troops throughout Europe. Nearby Fort Devens received draftees from throughout New England and served as a training center for army combat soldiers, cooks, chaplains, and nurses.  

The International Institute of Boston found every available path to help Boston’s immigrants and refugees during wartime. One focus was supporting second generation immigrants serving in the armed forces who were stationed in Boston during basic training, while awaiting deployment, or while on leave. Building on its success in connecting people through social gatherings and arts events, IIB worked with the Soldiers and Sailors Recreation Committee formed by city and state officials to host welcome celebrations and dances for local servicemembers and to connect them with local immigrant families of like cultures who invited them into their homes for holiday dinners. IIB helped fundraise for a committee called Defend the Allies that organized local groups to send aid to countries joining the U.S. in its fight. IIB’s Immigration legal support services became focused on ensuring that anyone not born in the U.S. who served in its uniform abroad would be granted entry to the U.S. and full citizenship in Boston.  

Meanwhile, when the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis began creating a refugee crisis to which the U.S. was not yet receptive, IINE partnered with a local mutual aid association sponsoring small numbers of Jewish refugees to resettle in Boston. Taking up the cause, IIB provided new arrivals with English language instruction to help them integrate.  

Today, IINE’s Boston office is located on the border of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood

A final avenue for support of immigrants opened when the U.S. formed an alliance with China. The International Institute lobbied hard to repeal the national Chinese Exclusion Act which had slammed the door on Chinese immigrants for decades. Once the act was successfully repealed in 1942, IIB hired its first Chinese “Nationality Secretary,” a Chinese immigrant who would lead IIB’s effort to serve the city’s Chinese community, including reunifying families who had been separated by the quota system that had replaced the Exclusion Act.  

Today, the Boston offices of the International Institute of New England reside in the China Trade Center on the border of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood. Within these offices, the International Institute continues to employ a diverse staff representative of the people IINE serves and to work with both local and national partners to find every available path to welcome newcomers who need our support and who renew Boston’s communities. 

During our centennial year, we celebrate 100 years of life-changing support to refugees and immigrants in Greater Boston and prepare for our second century of service. Learn more here: IINE Boston Centennial.

Local Employers Say That Hiring Refugees and Immigrants is a Win-Win

When refugees and immigrants arrive in New England they are eager to join the workforce, succeed and advance in their careers, and contribute to their new communities. During a transition filled with uncertainty, landing a job in the U.S. is their first major step toward financial security and pursuing their dreams.

Since our founding over 100 years ago, the International Institute has supported these new arrivals in developing the skills and expertise needed to successfully enter the workforce. IINE’s employment team helps clients to orient to U.S. workplace culture, set short-and long-term goals, and find and apply for jobs. In 2023, working with an established and growing network of local staffing agencies and employers, IINE prepared 1,881 refugee and immigrant clients to enter the workforce and placed 469 clients in jobs with strong starting wages, benefits, and clear pathways for advancement.  

Local employers describe hiring refugees and immigrants as a win-win; they know they’re getting employees with incredible work ethics who will strengthen the culture of their companies, and they take pride in helping people who have overcome heart-rending challenges for the chance of a fresh start.  

Meet some of the exceptional employer partners who have hired IINE clients – and seen tremendous results… 

WeStaff, a national staffing agency with a branch in Lowell, Massachusetts, has partnered with IINE for 10 years placing more than 3,000 refugees and immigrants into entry-level manufacturing jobs.  

Yusuf and KelleYusef Abdi, a long-time IINE Career Services Manager who is himself a former refugee from Somalia, first approached Kelle Doyle, WeStaff’s Area Manager, back in 2014. It didn’t take long for them to understand how they could help one another’s clients. Soon they were meeting frequently, reviewing the skills and experience of the refugees and immigrants Yusuf was working to place, matching them with job openings, and helping them fill out employment paperwork.

“He would bring 10 to 15 people at once, “says Kelle. “At first, we would spend hours together. Soon it got to a point where Yusuf trusted me and knew I’d take good care of his people, so he’d drop by, say a quick hello, give me a hug, go do some other work for a few hours, and come back. I ended up putting so many people to work through Yusuf’s help!” 

Kelle cannot say enough about how successful this pool of employees has been over the years, “They end up being our best employees. Their work ethic is unbelievable—and we know that they are humbling themselves, because they come with the most interesting educational and professional backgrounds, which may not be what we do at all, but they work in our manufacturing or our warehouses because that’s what we do, and they end up being the best employees there. The nice thing is, we’re a steppingstone for them to grow their language skills, make some money, establish themselves, get licenses, and just start a life here.” 

Kelle Quote

She says she could talk all day about the incredible people she’s met through the partnership and what it means to them to get the chance to work. “I had these two young employees once,” she remembers, “who were going to take the train to Wilmington and then walk a mile and a half to get to the client company. You never want to set them up for failure, so I said, ‘You know a mile-and-a-half seems like an awfully long walk.’ And they said, ‘Do you know how far we had to walk to school? We would think nothing of walking 10 miles one way to get to school and oftentimes we didn’t even have shoes on our feet.’”

Kelle says that she’ll never forget the perspective this showed her. She’s also grateful that Yusuf’s team is able to arrange for rides for their clients, and “even provide them with steel-toe boots!” 

Kelle certificate

The culture of her own company has also been very much shaped by the partnership, “I tell my staff, ‘Never forget what we do. It’s not just an employment agency. We touch lives every day here. You have no idea the impact we have on people who are coming here from refugee camps or other horrific situations. We help them to settle down and have confidence, and then we get to watch them grow in their new lives. We’ve employed entire families, and we’ve had people come back and get higher-level jobs.’

Back in 2015, when Kelle’s company was called “Remedy Intelligent Staffing” Kelle was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigrants at an IINE event celebrating staff, volunteers, and community partners. Later that same year, she was awarded a national “Recruiter of the Year” award at a ceremony in Las Vegas.

“I can tell you it was because of Yusef and all the people that came from IINE,” Kelle says. “It all trickled down to some really cool stuff happening in my world.”  

Ofemz, an up-and-coming Home Health Care Agency in Manchester, New Hampshire that is founded, owned, and operated by Nigerian immigrants Femi and Odun Owolabi, has recently employed a dozen IINE clients and is set to interview more. They describe their partnership with IINE as “a wonderful experience.”  

Femi Owolabi

Femi says that when they started the business and began looking for staff, they knew they wanted to employ fellow immigrants. They were thinking about the support they wish they’d had back when they were seeking their first jobs in the U.S. “It was a challenge before we could get a job,” he remembers. “We did it on our own and had to do everything.” 

The Owolabis reached out to people within their church and community networks. When Femi learned about IINE, he sent an email asking if there were “new immigrants who are just getting set up” who may be interested in the work, and if they could partner in any capacity. “I’m so glad I sent that email,” Femi says.

Ofemz places home health care aides, who help people of advanced age who need assistance with the tasks of their daily lives but prefer to stay in their own homes rather than assisted living facilities. They work with people at their most vulnerable and need to help them feel safe, supported, and comfortable. Femi feels a tremendous sense of responsibility to his clients. “Some of them light up when they see us. They see us as their family.” Femi too, describes his clients as being “like my family.” Trusting the people he sends to help them is of utmost importance.  

He says that the IINE clients he has hired have been perfect for the role. “It’s been awesome. Awesome. The individuals we hired through IINE have proven to be outstanding contributors to our team. Our clients love them. They are very diligent and are really passionate about what they do. It’s been a really great experience so far. Clients will say, ‘I only want this particular person because I love the way they are.’” 

Femi hopes to hire more IINE clients very soon. “There’s a good relationship with IINE supporting folks once they’re here, and hopefully we’ll get some more people trained up to have the language skills and other skills to keep helping out, and that this seems like a great job for them.” 

The Harvard Square Hotel, which accommodates visitors to the famous university just outside of Boston, has had an employment partnership with IINE for five years. They are supportive of the IINE clients they’ve hired and proud of the relationship.

In 2021 and 2022 IINE was working to resettle hundreds of Afghans who had been suddenly evacuated from their home country because when the Taliban retook power, they became targets. The Harvard Square Hotel was a strong partner, hiring many to fill jobs in hotel housekeeping and customer service at their front desk.  

Hotel Manager Richard Carbone helped train these and other clients and has served as a guest speaker in IINE’s hospitality skills training programs, providing insight into the industry. 

“Our IINE staff members are all doing very well and contributing to the team.” Richard writes in an email. “Some are going on two years in May 2024!!” 

IINE Employment Specialist Sean Burke has recently placed a client as a housekeeper at the hotel who speaks highly of the opportunity.  

“Abdoulaye is a refugee from Senegal who came to the US in late 2022, “says Sean. “He was an absolute joy to work with and was proactive about the job search and learning English. He ultimately wants to open his own restaurant in Boston. He started working at Harvard Square Hotel and whenever we talk about the work, he always says how happy he is to be working there. They threw him a birthday party shortly after he started!” 

“This is par for the course for this employer,” Sean adds. “They’re very supportive of our clients in general and we know that when we place someone there, they will be appreciated. The partnership has lasted because our clients have a great track record of success contributing there, and the Hotel knows they’re getting well-trained candidates and ongoing support from IINE. They also know a little bit about our clients’ backgrounds and are happy to help them out.” 

It’s a win-win. 

In 2023, IINE prepared 1,881 refugee and immigrant clients to enter the workforce and placed 469 clients in jobs with strong starting wages, benefits, and clear pathways for advancement. Learn more about our employment services and opportunities to get involved here

From the Desk of the CEO: The Economic Argument for Welcoming Refugees and Immigrants

By Jeff Thielman, President and CEO at the International Institute of New England

For those of us who feel strongly about advocating for the rights and protections of refugees and immigrants, the reasons we do so are deeply human. Refugees and immigrants endure long and often dangerous journeys to the U.S. because they have no other choice. Reeling from recent trauma and arriving with very few resources and connections, individuals and families show extraordinary bravery and resilience. Welcoming and supporting them is a moral imperative.  

However, in addition to the humanitarian reasons, there are clear economic reasons to embrace newcomers. Numerous recent reports have illuminated the critical role refugees and immigrants have historically played in growing our nation’s economy and the contributions they will make in the years to come. Read on to discover why welcoming immigrants to our communities is not only right in principle, but also the smart thing to do… 

1. Refugees and immigrants strengthen our workforce by filling much-needed roles in a range of industries

Nationwide, there are two open positions for every jobseeker – a labor gap that is expected to persist for years, as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The arrival of refugees and immigrants is critical to narrowing this gap. By filling roles in a range of industries, from healthcare to STEM, construction, environmental services, and more, newcomers bring skilled expertise and growth to our labor force.  

Economic Argument
Source: American Immigration Council

In addition, immigrants are highly entrepreneurial and start businesses at a much higher rate than U.S.born residents. 22% of entrepreneurs nationwide3.4 million peoplewere born outside of the U.S.

2. Immigrants more than pay back the initial support they receive. 

While refugees and immigrants receive modest help from the government upon arrival, the economic contributions they go on to make far outweigh that initial support. When I speak with our clients, so often one of the first things they tell me is how eager they are to gain work authorization, find a job, and support their families. And you can see that in the numbers.

Economic contributions

A new report found that from 2005-19, refugees and asylees paid more in taxes than the government spent on them. In addition, refugees and asylees who have been in the U.S. for ten or more years earn the same level of income, on average, as the general population, and because a larger portion of this population is of working age, refugees and asylees contribute more per capita than the U.S.–born population 

3. Without new arrivals, the population—and tax base—in many states would shrink.

Take Massachusetts, for example. Since 2020, the state has lost almost 110,000 residents. Out-migration is at its highest peak in 30 years. At the same time, the state’s population is aging, and the birth rate is declining. Meanwhile, just north in New Hampshire, while out-migration may not be a cause of concern, the average age of the state’s population is. As the second oldest state in the country, New Hampshire’s workforce is aging rapidly. Not only is there room in our country for people who arrive here seeking safety, we need them to ensure the growth of our economy.   

• • •

Refugees and immigrants come to the U.S. when remaining in their home countries is no longer a viable option – because of fear of persecution, because of war, and because of immense, life-threatening dangers. When they do, in addition to deeply enriching the culture, society, and diversity of the communities they join, they help build a more prosperous future for us all.  

Over the next 10 years, from 2023 to 2034, the U.S.’s Gross Domestic Product will be $7 trillion greater because of immigrants.

However, in order to successfully integrate into their new communities, join the workforce, and reach their potential, refugees and immigrants need adequate early support. The International Institute of New England is dedicated to providing our clients with a strong foundation so they can go on to achieve their dreams and contribute to their new communities 

Thank you again for your ongoing support. Refugees and immigrants are finding safety and hope in our region because of you.  

1924-1934: Fostering Community

“100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial” Series:
Installment #2
 

Welcome to the second installment of our series, “100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial.You can find the first installment, which described an immigration boom that bolstered the factory economy in Boston from 1910-1924 and the formation of International Institutes across the country, here: “1910-1924: Redefining Americanism.” We pick back up where we left off – in 1924, the year of the founding of the International Institute of Boston. 

In this period, the newly formed International Institute of Boston (IIB) provided a space to celebrate and support the city’s immigrant communities during a period of restricted immigration and economic hardship.  

Navigating Troubled Waters

The International Institute of Boston was founded at Boston’s YWCA in 1924 as part of a national movement of International Institutes that promoted the then radical practice of integration without forced assimilation 

Leading up to the founding, the YWCA had placed a focus on helping newly arrived immigrant women obtain citizenship at a time when tens-of-thousands of immigrants were arriving at Boston Harbor each year, often filling jobs in newly built factories. By 1924, the tide had turned as immigration slowed due to discriminatory federal laws, and soon after, the Great Depression would shutter many of the factories and businesses that had employed new Bostonians during the prior immigration boom.  

And yet, Boston was still very much a city of immigrants. According to the 1930 federal Census, more than 60% of Boston’s residents were either born outside of the U.S. or both of their parents were. The International Institute of Boston and its supporters were dedicated to helping them remain and thrive.  

From the mid-1920s to mid-1930s, the International Institute led the charge in pushing back against efforts to detain and deport immigrants, urging supporters to write to their congressmen to voice their steadfast support for their new community members. While offering the core services still provided today—advocacy, access to education, jobs, healthcare, and immigration legal assistance—the International Institute of Boston also focused on supporting persecuted immigrants in exploring, expressing, and drawing strength from the cultural heritages they brought to Boston, shaping the character of our city.  

Bringing Communities Together in A Vibrant New Home 

Drawing of the International Institute of Boston building at 190 Beacon St., from the cover of The Beacon newsletter
Drawing of the International Institute of Boston building at 190 Beacon St.

In 1930, the International Institute moved from the YWCA on 12 Newbury Street, to offices at 190 Beacon Street, within walking distance of Boston Common, the Massachusetts State House, and what would become the International Institute of New England’s current Boston office on 2 Boylston Street. This building would be the home of the International Institute of Boston until 1964. 

It was here that the agency first expanded its client population to include men and boys as well as women and girls. In addition to providing case work in Boston’s neighborhoods, the International Institute also continued expanding its social and cultural programming. The first staff of the International Institute of Boston included two professional “Secretaries” (as all staff members were called) who were “nationality workers.” Themselves immigrants, these staff provided case work and organized cultural programming for Boston’s new Armenian, Russian, Greek, and Polish communities. A Syrian Secretary and an Italian Secretary were added within the next two years.  

With this team of nationality workers, the agency began facilitating educational, social, and cultural programs. They helped a group of Armenian women found The Women’s Gertasiratz School to both learn English and teach Armenian to their children, organized an Armenian social club, and helped form a Polish Students Club to study Polish language and culture.  

These programs, and the many that would follow, helped first-generation immigrant groups to connect and form tight-knit communities and helped second-generation Americans—many of whom were torn between their families and the pressure to assimilate—to stay connected to their culture and communities in a time when they needed to pull together for support.  

Folk dancers gather at IINE. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Harvard Radcliffe Institute.
Women gather for folk dancing at IIB. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

In the 1930’s, The International Institute of Boston sponsored an Italian Girls Club to teach Italian language and literature, which the agency’s Italian Secretary hoped would “give the girls a sense of pride in acknowledging the greatness of their ancestry,” and it sponsored an organization to study Greek language and history and produce Greek plays; a Syrian Girls Club to study Arabic; a Syrian Mothers Club offering both lectures and songs in the Arabic language; and a club for the study of Russian literature. Czech immigrants gathered for lectures on Czech history, Finnish immigrants came for musical programs, and Ukrainians gathered for folk dancing and singing.  

Through the struggles of discriminatory policies and the economic depression, these clubs and classes brought immigrants together to draw strength from one another, build solidarity and leadership, and practice artistic expression that would not only carry on their traditions but also help them share their cultures with their new neighbors. 

Echoes of the social clubs sponsored by the International Institute of Boston 100 years ago are felt in today’s sewing and cooking groups IINE has formed for recently arrived Afghan women targeted by the Taliban, and in our Suitcase Stories program through which refugees, immigrants and second-generation Americans perform tell their personal stories of migration and new beginnings.  

The International Beacon

An early cover of the IIB’s newsletter, The International Beacon

In 1933, the International Institute of Boston launched The International Beacon, a newsletter that kept membership current on its programming and on the pressing immigration issues of the day and how to advocate for immigrant rights. Its first editor, Alfrieda Mosher, was the daughter of a U.S. diplomat and a graduate of Boston University who spoke several European languages. Long a champion of immigrants, Mosher had volunteered at the YWCA to help immigrant women with citizenship and naturalization issues, and had led clubs for Anglo-American, Swiss, French, and Armenian women. She was a natural spokesperson to celebrate the agency’s work and call its members to action.  

Today, maintaining its beacon of welcome to refugees and immigrants, the International Institute of New England and its supporters carry the passion and dedication of its founders to the core services that new Bostonians need to integrate and thrive. Over 100 years, we have continued to weather dramatic changes in immigration policy and shifts in the perception of newcomers beyond our control, focusing our services in response to the needs of the individuals and families that we serve. As the International Institute’s earliest nationality workers understood, immigrants are vital to the framework of Boston – and with initial support, they become well-positioned to reach their full potential in our communities.  

During our centennial year, we celebrate 100 years of life-changing support to refugees and immigrants in Greater Boston and prepare for our second century of service. Learn more here: IINE Boston Centennial.