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Tag: Policy statement

This Thanksgiving, Make Room for Everyone at the Table

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The election is over, ballots have been counted, and the results are in: This Thanksgiving, families may see a far bigger divide than who prefers dark meat over light meat. While Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to gather for a feast with your loved ones and even welcome new guests to the table, the sad truth is that many people may be crossing guests off their invitation list this year.

America is a nation of immigrants, and what holiday says this more than Thanksgiving, an “immigrant’s holiday, blending old and new traditions.” In 2014, President Obama addressed an audience of new U.S. citizens at the White House on this issue:

“America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Throughout our history immigrants have come to our shores in wave after wave from every corner of the globe,” he said. “Every one of us, unless we are Native American, has an ancestor who was born somewhere else.

President Obama’s point was that if there isn’t room for anything at the table, its intolerance of the “other.” We are all the “other.”

This election cycle was particularly difficult for the American public, especially on the topic of immigration reform. The polls show our country is more split than many thought, exposing deep rooted divisions. Since the Presidential election a mere two weeks ago, the country has witnessed violent protests and demonstrations, acts of vandalism, hate crimes, and public outcries of sadness and despair. Above all, the results have invoked fear, notably among refugees and immigrant

For others who find themselves without a space at another’s table, they will find good food, company, and perhaps even some solace at holiday celebrations hosted by community institutions such as churches and resettlement institutes. For example, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) welcomed hundreds of refugees and immigrants with open arms to their 12th annual Thanksgiving luncheon on November 15, 2016 at the State House in Boston. Speaking on the behalf of Mayor Martin Walsh, Director of the Office for Immigrant Advancement Alexandra St. Guillen stated,

“If you live in or around Boston, know that you are a valued member of our city and our community regardless of your place of birth, your immigration status, your faith tradition, or your appearance.

This past Monday, the International Institute’s Lowell office also hosted their annual “Taste of Thanksgiving” event, where over 50 refugees who are enrolled in the IINE-Lowell’s English as a Second Language (ESL) class celebrated their first Thanksgiving. Volunteers from the Resettle Together network prepared the food and joined in the feast, during which refugees described what they were most thankful for during this time. Resettle Together is a growing network of community partners assisting the International Institute of New England in creating welcoming communities for refugees and providing immediate and long-term support to individuals and families.

Refugees and immigrants in the United States have never needed help, support, and reassurance as much as they do now. For organizations like IINE and MIRA, the election results do not change our commitment and mission to provide all of the support we can to welcome new arrivals, and to assist immigrants and refugees to become productive members of our communities. We believe this nation is exceptional due to its embrace of everyone who cherishes freedom and equality. Sadly, for many new Americans their first holiday in the United States will include a post-turkey tryptophan coma, served with a steaming hot plate of bigotry.

So, as we are surrounded by fearful rhetoric we have to make a choice. We have to choose love over hate and we have to choose unity over separation.

This Thanksgiving Holiday, let’s choose make room for everyone at the table.

Photo Credit: “Thanksgiving” by Silveira Neto (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Statement on Anticipated Executive Order on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

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We are disappointed by reports of the President’s anticipated decision to suspend the United States refugee resettlement program for 120 days, to discontinue issuing visas to people from Syria and other predominately-Muslim countries, and to reduce the number of refugees who will enter the country from 110,000 to 50,000 this fiscal year.

Suspending a humanitarian program that serves vulnerable refugees fleeing war and violence does not make America great or safe. Of all immigrants, refugees are the most vetted and the most in need of protection. We are particularly distressed that those who have suffered trauma and persecution, including children en route to the U.S., may not be able to join their families here.

The anticipated executive order signals that the U.S. Government is walking away from its responsibility to lead as the world wrestles with the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. Refugees and their families are our neighbors, and just like you and me work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the cultural, economic, and civic life of New England and beyond.

It is important that people in Massachusetts and New Hampshire speak against this action not just because it is contrary to the founding values of this country, but because it will tangibly affect the economic prosperity of our region. As New England’s workforce ages, businesses will increasingly rely on new Americans to grow. Quite simply, the U.S. resettlement program helps American communities become better places to work and live.

The work of the International Institute of New England will not stop. We remain committed to welcoming and supporting newly-arrived refugees as soon as the suspension ends. In the meantime, we will continue to serve the refugee women, men, and children we have resettled during the past year and to offer skills training, English language instruction, and other programming to immigrants of all backgrounds. At this critical time for new Americans, we remain focused on helping them find stability and achieve success in our shared communities.

Jeff Thielman
President and CEO

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Our Mission Continues

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President Trump’s executive order suspending the refugee resettlement program, placing an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and halting the issuance of visas to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, is an affront to our nation’s values and our Constitution. It is also a direct attack on the mission of the International Institute of New England.

The President is playing on fear. Because we work with people who have overcome so much to get here, we do not give in to fear. No executive order will stop the Institute from serving refugees and immigrants.

We are the largest refugee resettlement program in Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, and we know better than anyone that the people we serve from around the world come here seeking peace. Refugees and their families are our neighbors. They work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the cultural, economic, and civic life of New England and beyond.

The President’s order does not make America safe or great. Rather, it signals that the United States is retreating from its responsibility to lead as the world wrestles with the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

The International Institute will continue to provide critical services to the more than 625 refugees currently in our care, and with your help, we will be ready to receive new refugees when the program restarts. Our skills training, English language, and job placement programs for refugees and immigrants will continue to thrive and grow as well.

We urge our friends and neighbors to speak out against this action. We ask you to support us in any way you can.

DONATE TODAY TO SUPPORT IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES IN YOUR COMMUNITY

We also ask you to learn more about us by reading about our work in The New York Times, CNN, public radio, The Boston Globe, and other outlets. To read full media stories, please visit the Institute’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages.

Thank you for your support of our clients and mission during this critical time.

Gratefully,

Jeff Thielman
President and CEO

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IINE CEO Jeff Thielman’s response to U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the President’s Travel Ban

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The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday means prolonged suffering for many refugees approved by the U.S. government to find haven in America. Sadly, people who have suffered trauma, lived in camps for years, and followed all the rules of the U.S. refugee processing system will either not be able to enter for at least another 120 days or have to restart the entire process.  Our staff at the International Institute of New England was preparing to welcome and resettle some of these refugees in Boston, Lowell, and Manchester, New Hampshire.

The Court’s Ruling

The Supreme Court narrowed but did not overturn lower court decisions stopping parts of President Trump’s Executive Order, which sought to ban visa holders from six predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. for 90 days and suspend the Refugee Resettlement Program for 120 days.  The Court did not rule yesterday as to whether the Executive Orders were constitutional or otherwise illegal.  Instead, the Supreme Court said the government may ban refugees and other visa holders with no ties to people or entities in the United States from coming to our country while it rules on the merits of the case.  The Court will hear the case in October and rule by the end of 2017.  By then, it is quite possible that many matters raised in the appeal will be moot because the bans will have taken place and a new fiscal year will be underway.

The Court said that some people, including refugees, may come to the U.S. if they have a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”  The Court said this includes people with close family relationships in the U.S., students admitted to a U.S. university, workers who have accepted jobs here, and lecturers invited to speak to U.S. audiences.  The dissenters to the unsigned ruling said this compromise will create a lot of litigation because the courts will have to sort out what “bona fide relationships” means.  They are probably right.

The Court stated that the U.S. may admit more than 50,000 refugees in FY17, the ceiling set by President Trump in his Executive Orders.  The criteria for admission of refugees for the next 120 days, however, is that they must have a legitimate connection to persons or entities in the United States.

Resettlement Nationally and Locally at IINE

The United States has resettled nearly 49,000 refugees as of today, and because of the Court’s ruling, the country will resettle more than 50,000 refugees by September 30.

By the end of this week (June 30), the International Institute of New England expects to have resettled 402 refugees in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with three months remaining in the fiscal year.  Our original target was 623 refugees (we budgeted for 590) by September 30.   It is unlikely that we will reach that target.

Special Interest Visa holders (SIVs) and any refugee with family and personal connections to anyone living in the U.S. will be able to come to Boston, Lowell, or Manchester.  We expect to see primarily U.S. “tie” cases between now and September 30.

We are just three months away from a new fiscal year, and by law, President Trump must issue a determination letter on or before October 1, indicating how many refugees the country will admit in FY18.

Earlier this month I was in Washington, DC with leaders of resettlement agencies around the country lobbying members of Congress to urge the President to admit 75,000 refugees.  We will know in a few months how many refugees our agency will serve in the coming fiscal year.  The number of refugees we contract for impacts our budget, planning, and programs for FY18 (which begins for us on October 1, 2017).

Next Steps

Our work will continue, and our job remains to keep serving the people in our care.

We will help every refugee assigned to us and expand our efforts to serve a broad range of early status immigrants in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  We just received word that IINE-Manchester will receive a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant from the state of New Hampshire to expand English, Skills Training and Civics Training programs.  We will look for other ways to expand programs for new Americans in our three sites.

While there is some sadness in yesterday’s ruling for us and for many of our clients, we are not discouraged.  The International Institute has been serving new Americans since 1919; this is the not the first time we have confronted anti-refugee and anti-immigrant feelings.  Our clients need IINE to continue to support them in all the ways we have promised; and we rely on the support of our volunteers, donors, and community partners to continue to do so.

There is a lot of work to do, and it is important that we do it well, especially now

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