By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Former mayor of Lewiston
It was reported in the May 10 issue of Twin City TIMES that I would serve on a panel on refugee resettlement at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Convening of Migrant/Refugee Service (USCCB/MRS) Providers held at the Washington, D.C. Hilton from May 9 to May 11. The TCT editor asked me to report back.
Some 280 people, mostly service providers, from all over the country attended the convening, where the theme was “Reaffirming the Mission.” The MRS Vision Statement reads as follows: “Creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and belonging.”
Of the four plenary sessions, the first was a “Welcome and Keynote Address” by Ambassador Johnny Young and Anastasia Brown, USCCB/MRS. The second involved “A Conversation with our Federal Partners.” The third involved “Advocacy on the Hill 101,” and the last, in which I participated, was “Developing Welcoming Communities.”
During the last plenary, I participated with Elizabeth Harshaw, USCCB/MRS; Susan Downs-Karkos, Welcoming America; Rachel Steihardt, Welcoming America; and Robin M. Jones, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Dept. of Health and Human Services.
I showed the CBS Evening News segment that appeared on April 11, 2009 on the Somali assimilation in Lewiston, and I followed it up with the Lewiston story. It was a conversational-type of presentation with the Welcoming America panelists talking about what communities around the country are doing in developing welcoming communities for refugees and immigrants. The presentations were well received, and good dialogue ensued between panelist and the audience.
Those attending from Maine were Arian Giantris and Tarlan Ahmadov of Catholic Charities Maine (Portland) and Qamar Bashir of Catholic Charities Maine (Lewiston).
Aside from the many plenary and breakout sessions, there was an Advocacy Day where a great many of the participants spent the day on Capitol Hill meeting with their congressmen and senators.
Three of the four of us from Maine participated in Advocacy Day, while Ms. Giantris had to stay back, as she was a presenter in a breakout sessions entitled “Creating Collaborations that Support Resettlement Programs and Communities.”
We visited the offices of Senators Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, as well as Congressman Michael Michaud and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. We were well received by their staff members, even though we arrived unannounced. We did have an opportunity to meet personally with Congressman Michaud.
We advocated for two issues: the first was that Congress preserve funding and oppose any proposed reductions to the Migration and Refugee Assistance and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance accounts to the Foreign Operations Appropriation bill for Fiscal Year 2013 and the Office of Refugee Resettlement account of the Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations bill for FY 2013.
The FY 2013 Needs Assessment is to fund MRA and ERMA at $1.87 billion and to fund ORR at $943.8 million.
The second issue we advocated for was that they recommend that the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration work with federal agencies to thoroughly review the security clearance process and make changes that will improve its efficiency.
While in Washington and on Capitol Hill, we took a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building. We were given special gallery passes from Congressman Michaud to go into both the House and Senate Galleries. For Qamar Bashir (formerly of Somalia) and Tarlan Ahamadov (formerly of Azerbaijan), who became as U.S. citizen the week prior, it was their first time visiting the Capitol.
I have yet to attend a conference where I not only profited from the various presentations, the materials distributed and shared while perhaps most importantly the opportunity to network with folks from around the country dealing with the same issues.
One particular model that I was able to absorb was that of the Salt Lake City, Utah Parish Refugee Resettlement Ministry which was submitted by Raul Yumul. They have applied the 2000 Pastoral Statement of Bishops of the USCCB entitled, “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us, Unity in Diversity.”
They have created the Parish Refugee Resettlement Ministry in nine parishes to spread the word. The refugees they are serving in nine parishes are from Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Central Africa and Eritrea.
I plan on sharing this model with my pastor, as well as a couple of publications distributed by the USCCB entitled “Welcoming Christ in the Migrant” and “Unity in Diversity; A Scriptural Rosary” with reflections at each decade of the rosary based on scripture passages.
All in all, it was a wonderful and most informative conference. I felt fortunate to have been invited to participate, as one always receives more than one contributes. Such was the case here.
Throughout the convening, there were a number of “breakout sessions” presented by service providers from around the country. The titles of those sessions were:
Getting the Most out of Match Grants: Effective Fiscal Management.
Getting from Here to There: Casework and Influence in a Pre-Arrival Context.
Strengthening Refugee and Immigrant Families: Keeping Children Safe.
Helping Your Clients Become Financially Literate.
Domestic Cultural Orientation.
The Art of Empathic Listening
Creative Collaborations that Support Resettlement Programs and Communities.
The Role of Parish Volunteers in Resettlement.
Working with Children who have Complex Needs.
Strengthening Refugee Employment Services in a Difficult Economic Environment.
Profiles of Medical Case Management.
New Challenges in Family Reunification Case Processing.
Growing Match Grant in 2012: Opportunities and Obstacles.
Developing an Advocacy Plan.
Human Trafficking Victims Among Refugee Clients.