No matter that Prescott calls itself Everybody’s Hometown, it isn’t. Not for refugees, anyway. But that’s not because the community doesn’t care. The federal government has strict guidelines for refugee programs.
Nicky Walker, development manager for International Rescue Committee in Phoenix (IRC), explained why Prescott does not qualify as a place to resettle refugees.
“The federal government requires that refugees be resettled within a 50-mile radius of the agency that resettles them. They also must have easy access to public transportation and reasonable travel time to access the agency as needed,” Walker said.
IRC has two offices in Arizona, Phoenix and Tucson, 26 across the country and 44 worldwide. At one point there was talk of forming a satellite office in Mesa because of the lack of appropriate housing in downtown Phoenix.
However, the recent executive orders of President Donald Trump have caused a drop in the number of refugees allowed into the country, making expansion uncertain. Trump cut the number of refugee immigrants from 110,000 to 50,000.
Last year the Phoenix IRC settled more than 1,200 refugees. This year it expects about 750.
Rebecca Phillips heads up the newly formed subcommittee on immigration through the larger Prescott Indivisible group.
“I’m very impressed with the group and with Prescott Indivisible as a whole,” she said. “We’re now up to 28 people on the immigration group email. I find them all bright, dedicated and well-informed.”
This subgroup, one of four within Prescott Indivisible (environmental, human rights and education), will focus on local, state and national issues relating to immigration and refugees. They meet for a second time Monday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m. at the Frantz Fanon Community Center at Prescott College, 371 Garden St. Suite B, off Miller Valley Road.
Refugees fall under immigrant status, but as a separate class, they have a different legal status, Walker said. Refugees receive a Social Security card, they are authorized to work from the time of entry, and are on a path to citizenship.
After one year, they can apply for a green card; after five years, they take the exam for citizenship.
“I don’t know of any other country in the world that affords that route to citizenship,” said Walker, who has been with IRC for 12 years.
What most people don’t realize is that the resettlement program is set up to be a ready-to-work program.
The refugee receives only one to two months’ payment for rent.
“That’s it. It’s not a continual assistance,” she said. Because Arizona’s social services are minimal, a refugee cannot survive without working.
The No. 1 focus is reaching self-sufficiency, primarily through employment and learning English. IRC staff and volunteers help parents enroll their children in school, provide language classes, find help in recovery from trauma, and with understanding their rights and how to make informed choices.
If families need extended resources, donations and grants can provide some relief. On average, Walker said, IRC finds at least 92 percent are self-sufficient within 180 days of arrival.
“That’s pretty phenomenal when you think of a woman with no English and never having gone to school, to resettle, learn survival English, find employment and pay rent,” she said.
“They are not going to purchase cars or homes right away. But IRC has programs that, down the road, when they are able, they can start a new business or own their own business,” she added.
IRC refugees in Arizona have purchased more than 400 homes and opened 150 new businesses, which creates employment and jobs for others, and tax revenue for the state.
“I think people have the mentality that we are footing their bills, but even the plane ticket that refugees use to come here is a loan and they have to pay it back,” Walker said.
The transportation costs are considered a revolving fund that help pay for the next refugee. The no-interest loan can be paid back over years. It allows them to build credit, she said.
“It’s literally not a free ride.”
“These people are not fleeing economic situations or fleeing by choice. They are forced to flee. They can’t go back home. They’ve seen family members killed in front of them or they escaped from detention and torture — escaped with nothing. Sending them back is not realistic,” Walker said.
Four other agencies in Phoenix work with refugees: Catholic Charities, Refugee Focus out of Lutheran Social Services, and Arizona Immigrant and Refugee Services.
According to Pew Research Center, Arizona is sixth highest in the nation with 4,110 resettled in 2016. Worldwide there are 65 million refugees, most of whom are stranded in camps, waiting to make a new home in a safe country. It’s the highest number of refugees since WWII, Walker said.
To learn more about IRC Phoenix, email Nicky Walker at email@example.com. For more information about the immigration committee in Prescott, email Rebecca Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.