State a critical partner in program

Written by Holly Johnson|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p

Refugees are admitted to the U.S. legally and are eligible for the same benefits — nothing more — as are native-born citizens. They are financially self-sufficient within a few months and are not dependent on public welfare, but on their own earned income.

In fact, only 3 percent of the refugees who were resettled in Tennessee in the past 24 months received any substantial public welfare assistance.

Employers contact resettlement agencies when they have openings because refugees are typically reliable and conscientious employees who work hard, arrive on time and rarely miss a day.

Simply stated, refugees make good employees.

Refugee resettlement programs have the responsibility of working with refugees for up to five years following their arrival in the U.S. While most don’t require hand-holding for the entire five-year period, refugees do sometimes contact their resettlement agency when they have a problem. The fact that this assistance is available means that there is a method by which refugees can receive help in assimilating into their new community.

But even before refugees arrive, resettlement agencies are working on their behalf. Resettlement staff meets regularly with officials from the local DHS office, the public school system, area employers and potential landlords — among others — to discuss the population’s special needs and to prepare them for the arrivals. After the refugees arrive, resettlement staff continues these conversations, often providing training to local mainstream agencies. In fact, Tennessee’s School Impact Program provides training not only to parents and children entering the public school system, but also to teachers, furnishing them with practical resources they can access including information on the arriving ethnicity and a history of the educational background of these groups.

Resettlement agencies undergo an annual consultation with the state refugee coordinator and local mainstream and government agencies in their communities. This is already mandated by federal regulation, but the recent passage of the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act (RACA) codifies this federal regulation into state law. The Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR), the body that administers the state’s refugee resettlement activities, consults regularly with state officials in determining policy for its own programming.

While it’s true that RACA provides a mechanism for an affected community to request a moratorium, refugees in Tennessee are only resettled in communities with a demonstrated capacity to assimilate them. Among the responsibilities of the state refugee coordinator is to ensure that the resettlement community can comfortably handle the recommended number of refugee arrivals. This is one of the main considerations when determining how many refugees will arrive in a county — and in the state — each year.

Although Tennessee does not provide funding for refugee resettlement within its borders, TOR considers the state to be a critical partner in the process of assimilation for refugees who arrive here. We are blessed with state officials who understand and respect the resettlement process, and with whom we work to ensure the success of each refugee who comes to call Tennessee “home.”

Holly Johnson is state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee office of refugees for Catholic Charities of Tennessee.