Integrating Local Immigrants: Cleveland Resources and Experiences
On Sunday morning, February 19th, we went with our colleague, Mr. George Koussa, to to First Unitarian Church of Cleveland on Shaker Blvd. for a "Coffee, Conversation, and Community" discussion titled "Integrating Local Immigrants: Cleveland Resources and Experiences" featuring Ms. Danielle Drake, Chairperson for "Cleveland Refugee Collaborative Services" and Community Relations Manager for "US Together"; and Ms. Nadia Zaiem, an immigration attorney with "Raslan/Pla" who is the daughter of our good friend, Mr. Isam Zaiem, the co-founder of "CAIR-Cleveland."
The discussion was introduced by Mr. James Boyle and the program notes read, "approximately 5% of Cleveland residents (20,000) are immigrants. Given the recent negative publicity, are we supportive of immigrants locally? Will negative rhetoric on immigration become U.S. policy? What local community programs are providing assistance?"
Mr. Bob Horan, who was also present, recalled that Ms. Margaret W. Wong spoke there about a year ago and considered her "a show in itself."
Ms. Drake spoke first and made use of a power point presentation which defined a refugee, according to UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, as someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear unable to avail himself of the protection of that country."
Such persecution can be due to religion, race, nationality, social group or political opinion. Today there are 17.2 million refugees which is a record number. Ms. Drake discussed the stark conditions that she had observed in places such as the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya and the Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda. Out of these 17 million maybe 2% of them gets a chance to resettle. We learned that the average wait for a person in a refugee camp to be resettled is 7 plus years and some people have been in camps for 18 plus years and that the screenings (a 13 to 16 step process) that they have to undergo in order to resettle in the United States are very intense to say the least; even before 9/11 the process was quite difficult. Once the lucky ones arrive in the United States they are expected to go to work immediately and pay taxes immediately. Sadly, since the Trump administration came into being the refugee slots for U.S. resettlement have been reduced from 110,000 to 50,000 and here in Northeast Ohio, the office in which Ms. Drake works has had to lay off seven staffers.
During her own presentation, Ms. Zaiem was also quick to dispel a lot of the myths about immigrants such as that they pose a danger to our safety and are a burden regarding public assistance funding. She reviewed the statistics regarding how much they pay in taxes and what an asset they really are to our economy. For example, those who immigrate to the United States (or their children) are more likely to get advanced educational degrees and/or start their own businesses than people born here.
From an immigration attorney's point-of-view, she explained how tough the process is of obtaining a visa to stay in the United States for an extended period of time, for naturalized citizens to bring their relatives here, for an employer to hire a non-citizen, and for a person to be granted asylum.
Next, Ms. Drake and Ms. Zaiem demonstrated part of the interview process to become a citizen with Mr. Boyle taking on the part of the applicant. They explained that one of the requirements of citizenship was having to answer correctly in English 6 out of 10 civics questions randomly chosen from a stack of 100 cards. Among these questions were:
What is a right only U.S. citizens have?
How long is the term of a U.S. Congressperson?
Who is your U.S. Congressperson?
What does the Judicial branch of the U.S. government do?
Who does a U.S. Senator represent?
Can you name 2 cabinet level positions?
What happened at the Constitutional Convention?
The program concluded with a Q and A in which audience members expressed great concern about what is going on now regarding the Trump administration and immigration. One person knew a refugee family who was having problems adjusting to everyday life in the U.S. and wondered why programs that could help them would be cutback.
It was pointed out that the church sponsorship program for refugees no longer exists in the United States but it does in Canada which is why they are about to take on 3 times as many Syrian refugees as we do here.
The differences between a "welcoming city" and a "sanctuary city" where explained and we learned that there will soon be a gathering in University Heights to discuss making it a sanctuary city which is a challenge for many cities which would like to go that route because the Trump Administration has threatened to cut funding if they do. For the record, a "welcoming city" is a city who lets it be known that immigrants and refugees are welcome there and will do all it can to help them become part of the community. Locally, Cleveland Heights, South Euclid and Beachwood are official welcoming cities. For more information see welcomingamerica.org
On the other hand, Oberlin is a sanctuary city and, according to "Wikipedia" a sanctuary city "is a municipality that has adopted a policy of protecting unauthorized immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws and by ensuring that all residents have access to city services, regardless of immigration status."
And, in answer to one question about the potential danger of refugees, Ms. Drake reviewed the statistics that showed that no one who proved to be a terrorist has entered this country as a refugee since records started to be kept in 1975. On the other hand, she had recently received 4 death threats from established, non-ethnic Americans because she advocates for refugees. The audience applauded in agreement when Ms. Drake asked, "who is the real problem here?"
Overall, the best pathway that we could take amidst the current turmoil was stated by Ms. Zaiem when she said that we must reach out to our U.S. Congresspersons and demand real, comprehensive immigration reform instead of policies based on fear.
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC