It’s a topic that many are buzzing about lately, both nationally and locally, and with so many questions, interpretation and discussion, Eggs & Issues was the perfect forum to shine some light on this important topic. On the morning of November 3, over 200 attendees gathered at the Radisson Hotel Fargo to hear first-hand from Lutheran Social Services (LSS) CEO Jessica Thomasson, who discussed the process refugees undertake to make it to the area, what happens when they arrive and how they make an impact here. The morning was essentially a forum to set the facts straight and dispel any misconceptions.
It’s important to define the terms in any discussion. And here, two important terms are refugee and immigrant. In short, the U.N. defines these terms as:
–Refugee: Someone who flees their home country due to fear of persecution or harm and is unable to return to that country.
–Immigrant: Someone who chooses to leave their country in search of a better life.
Therefore, refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants are refugees.
Over the course of the next hour of the event, Thomasson enlightened the crowd with a plethora of facts regarding refugees in our nation and in our own community.
-The U.S. State Department, with various other volunteer agencies, determines where refugees will be settled, based largely upon housing availability and family connections.
-Communities have to be approved resettlement cities. In North Dakota there are four approved cities: Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck.
-There are more areas with conflict in the world than ever before, which is why we are seeing higher numbers of total refugees needing resettlement in our community, nation and world.
-LSS has resettled about 400 people per year over the last 19 years. So far this year, they have resettled 506 people.
-Of the 506 people resettled this year so far, they have consisted of 205 families, 40% were children, and 85% of the time, people rejoined families from across 10 home countries.
-LSS receives about a seven to 10-day notice that a new family or individual is coming to the area so that they can prepare for their arrival.
-In the first 30 days after their arrival, refugees begin community orientation and English classes, prepare for work, connect with community services and enroll their children in school.
-Refugees do not receive free housing or free cars. They do get an apartment with a few basic household items, but they are responsible for paying their own housing costs, and receive at most a four-month bus pass.
-Refugees pay the same local, state and federal and taxes like all other citizens.
-Refugees are able to apply for housing assistance if they qualify, but do not receive special treatment or jump any lists.
-All refugees are screened by the U.S., Department of Homeland Security before entering a new country, and violent aggressors are not allowed.
-No data exists to support the notion that refugees commit more crimes than any other group of people. There is no correlation between a person’s immigrant status and criminality.
-Refugee resettlement is not a profit center for LSS. 10% of the funds they receive are regranted to other organizations that also work with refugees. 40% is direct assistance to the families for their needs. The rest goes to provide services to clients, such as case managers, interpreters, employment specialists, etc.
-After one year, refugees can apply to become legal permanent residents of the U.S. After five years, they can apply to become U.S. citizens.
“People really do want to be here and build a life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love the home that they came from,” Thomasson said.
“The work that we do isn’t always popular, but we try to make sure it is always thoughtful and is always helping people thrive,” she concluded.
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