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Immigrant Stories at the Warner Theater

Hi – I’m Susan Suhr, the founder and co-leader of New Start Ministry. New Start Ministry is a mission of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Woodbury, dedicated to helping refugees begin their new lives here in America. You might be wondering, what is a refugee? Are all immigrants refugees? No - Refugees are a special type of immigrant. By U.S. and international definition, they are people who have fled their home country because they were persecuted or because they had legitimate fears that they would be persecuted because of their nationality, religious beliefs, political views, or racial or ethnic background. Once they have left their home country, these people apply for refugee status through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It can take two years or more for their applications to be processed by the UNHCR. After receiving U.N. refugee status, they can apply for resettlement to the United States. They undergo over 7 background checks by our national security agencies and interviews with Department of Homeland Security personnel before being granted permission by the U.S. Department of State to enter our country. The U.S. vetting process is the most rigorous in the world, often taking two years to complete. Unfortunately it has been reported that less than 1% of refugees get resettled to a country where they can live in safety. Once approved for travel, refugees are required to take out interest-free travel loans from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to cover their airfare to the U.S. Repayment is expected to begin 6 months after arrival. 2 There are other Department of State programs under which displaced persons are allowed legal entrance to the United States. For example, the Ukrainians who have been brought to our country are part of the Humanitarian Parolee program. They receive limited government assistance and need to apply for work authorization. Hossna and her family arrived under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Applicants who have worked for one year or longer for the U.S. government, a contractor or certain U.N. agencies may be eligible for an SIV. Applications are submitted to the U.S. Department of State. The applicant does not need to be in a third country as a prerequisite to applying. People who receive SIVs enter the United States as immigrants with lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. While refugees and SIVs are considered permanent residents of the United States, but they cannot leave and re-enter the country until they receive their Green Cards. The U. S. Department of State has set the expectation that refugees become self-sufficient within 6 months of arriving in this country. They are cleared to work immediately upon entry into the United States, but typically they have, at best, limited English language skills. Amazingly, the vast majority of refugees meet the 6 month goal of financial independence, thanks to their determination and the efforts of dedicated volunteers, including ESL tutors, who walk beside them. 3 According to federal law, refugees and SIVs coming to the U.S. must be placed with a local agency within the state they are sent to (and no, refugees almost never have a choice as to which state they will be sent). The local agency with which New Start Ministry is affiliated in Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, commonly known as IRIS, which is headquartered in New Haven. New Start Ministry is affiliated with IRIS as a community co-sponsor. Co-sponsorship is a shared commitment between IRIS and a community group to help an immigrant family resettle to Connecticut and become self-sufficient. Multiple community groups can pool their resources and come together to help a refugee family, as we did. In a co-sponsorship, IRIS delegates most resettlement tasks to the local group. We are responsible for securing affordable housing, collecting furniture and other household items, identifying appropriate healthcare resources, and helping our assigned refugee family access public benefits (HUSKY/Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, and TFA/cash assistance for eligible families). We are also responsible for enrolling children in school, facilitating job searches, providing ESL tutors, and performing other necessary tasks to help the family adjust to their new reality. A little background on New Start Ministry. We are an interfaith team – Christians, Jews, Muslims and agnostics – working together on this important humanitarian initiative. In late 2015 a small group of St. Paul’s congregants decided that we would like to help refugees, but there was only a small number of us, not enough volunteers to do all the necessary work. In early 2016 we reached outside the church’s four walls, inviting clergy 4 members and their congregants, both in Woodbury and neighboring towns, to gather for informational meetings. By September 2016 we had recruited over 30 volunteers and raised enough funds to begin our co-sponsorship group. Since our founding in 2016 we have been blessed to assist six families – a Kurdish family from Syria, four Afghan families, and a Ukrainian family - start their new lives in America. Thank you for your interest in and support of these brave human beings.

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