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White House Says Public Can Do More To Resettle Additional Refugees

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Biden White House is vowing to reverse the deep cuts the Trump administration made in the number of refugees resettled here, and it says there will be more ways the public can help. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: To get an idea about why this matters, here's how the U.S. usually resettles refugees. The State Department contracts with several large organizations that find housing, jobs and schools for the kids. Volunteers help, but the program is centered around caseworkers. It's done quietly so communities don't reject the newcomers.

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AMOS: It works differently in New Haven, Conn.

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AMOS: I've come to meet a refugee from Sudan. He works at a local moving company. He and his family arrived in March 2020.

ANOUR ISMAIL ABDELLAH: My name Anour Ismail Abdellah.

AMOS: Why did you have to leave home?

ABDELLAH: Oh, because of - there is a war in Sudan.

AMOS: A coalition from local churches, synagogues and mosques resettled the family. Cynthia Dunn, a local businesswoman, headed that team.

CYNTHIA DUNN: We came together to basically help a family come into the country and start a new life.

AMOS: Dunn's group raised more than $15,000, gathered 30 dedicated volunteers and got to work.

DUNN: We connect them with schools. We help them find employment. We provide transportation in the beginning, until they can do that themselves.

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AMOS: They helped a lot, says Abdellah. It's a one-year commitment, but the bonds last much longer.

Do you stay close to them? Are they now your American family?

ABDELLAH: Yes, they do.

AMOS: The family has integrated quickly, mostly because private citizens invest time and money, trained by an official resettlement agency, the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services - IRIS.

CHRIS GEORGE: The model that we have here in Connecticut has gotten a lot of attention.

AMOS: That's executive director Chris George. IRIS has trained more than 50 community groups across the state in five years. The co-sponsorship requires a core group of at least 10 who raise at least $4,000.

GEORGE: Our main reason for promoting community-based resettlement - we have learned through experience that it is the best way to educate Americans about refugees and to strengthen public support for refugee resettlement.

AMOS: That approach has been working in Canada since the 1970s, allowing the resettlement of more than 300,000 refugees by private Canadian citizens, who provide initial financial support.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Being sponsored to come to Canada as a refugee can be a rewarding experience for you and...

AMOS: Now the Biden administration wants to expand community resettlement in the U.S., outlined in a February executive order. Private fundraisers, including Ed Shapiro, a Boston philanthropist, tapped a pool of eager donors.

ED SHAPIRO: Basically, half of them said, we love what you're doing, but we're working full time, we have young kids - is it OK if we just write a $10,000 check? And the other half was like, I love what you're doing, this is great, but I can only afford $50, but I'll go three times a week, and I'll drive the kids to school, and I'll help them with jobs - yes.

AMOS: Shapiro and others raised $800,000, named eight grant winners from Albany to New Orleans, community groups who submitted plans to resettle refugees. Everything has come together to make this happen, says Chris George.

GEORGE: Soon as the numbers go up, I think you'll see more and more cases placed with community groups.

AMOS: So far, the Biden administration has kept the minimal refugee arrivals set by Trump but promises to raise the numbers by May. By then, dozens of community groups will be ready to go.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAY FOR SOUND'S "YOUNG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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