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Immigrants and Refugees | Spokane, WA
Immigrants and Refugees

  • A refugee is one who flees to a foreign country to escape persecution.
  • Many refugee families in Spokane were forced to leave their homeland because of war, political strife and violence.  World Relief Spokane helps nearly 500 refugees rebuild their lives here each year.  It takes up to 2 years for them to be processed as they go through interviews, medical checks, very strict security and background checks.  In 2016, about 600 refugees arrived in Spokane. 

    The Journey of a Refugee to the United States:
  1. Homeland.  A refugee is a person who must leave his or her  homeland due to persecution of beliefs, race or ethnicity.  In 2012, 45.2 million people were forcibly displaced.

  2. Refugee Camp.  Refugees wait an average of 5 years in a refugee camp, or until a new country grants permission to enter.  One in three refugees lives in a refugee camp. 

  3. Interview.  Refugees entering the U.S. are interviewed by the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and U.S. Bureau of Citizenship & Immigration Services.  Only those escaping persecution are eligible for entry.  Every year, the U.S. welcomes 50,000-70,000 refugees.

  4. Arrival.  Each arriving refugee is assigned to an agency to provide basic services during his or her first 90 days in the U.S.  Refugees come to the U.S. on a travel loan which they must repay. 

  5. Establishing self-sufficiency.  Newly arrived refugees need housing, transportation, ESL, and job skills.  Refugees arrive with limited personal possessions:  possibly one bag of clothing (nothing for cold weather), no household goods, and often no toiletries such as toothpaste and toothbrushes.  Their language, skills land backgrounds are diverse and cover the continuum from zero English and education to highly skilled (even doctors/professors/engineers) and fluent in English.  The R&P program provides basic necessities for the first 3 months:  basic furnishings, simple kitchen items,  linens and household items, cleaning supplies, and toiletries.  In the long run, what a refugee needs most is a new sense of community. 

    Where do the refugees come from?
      Since 1992, World Relief Spokane has assisted refugees from:  Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bosnia, Burma, Burundi, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Former Soviet Union, Iraq, Iran, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam. 

    (Source:  Mark Kadel, Director of World Relief Spokane.  World Relief is one of 9 voluntary agencies contracted by the Dept. of State to resettle refugees.  Every year, World Relief resettles 10% of all refugees entering the U.S., working with a network of partner churches to provide language skills, job training, and spiritual support for these new community members.  Every refugee who comes to Spokane through World Relief receives assistance through the Reception & Placement Program (R&P). http://spokanecares.org/index.php?org_ref=369&search=world
  • Our nation created the Refugee Admissions Program for good reasons in 1980.  Refugee resettlement is a solution to a horrific humanitarian crisis, supports the value of healthy unseparated families, provides credibility to our foreign policy, assures our allies that we will not abandon those who take risks to help our troops overseas, and adds tens of billions of dollars to our economy and our social services systems.  We must continue to stand for and with refugees and immigrants in our community, advocating for compassionate, commonsense policies.  ("One year later, refugees still drastically reduced," by Mark Finney, Ph.D., director at World Relief Spokane, The Spokesman-Review, January 26, 2018)

  • We must see that the ongoing news of the refugee crisis does not desensitize us to one of the greatest crises in the history of the world.  Millions of people are desperately pleading for help.  They have lost their homes, and many have lost family and friends.  They will continue to need our help for a long time, as they continue to flee their homelands to escape war, persecution and great suffering.

    There is much we can do to help.  Our response, or lack of response, to the suffering children, women and men will be a reflection on us as individuals, leaders, and as a society.  Please read the Volunteer Opportunities listed below, to find a way for you and those within your circle of influence to help.

  • "We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us once were foreigners....and for many, America continues to be a land of dreams.  I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants...Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our 'neighbors' and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal solidarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this." 

    "Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation."   (Pope Francis' address to Congress, September 24, 2015)

  • The U.S. Federal government has not been committed to great assistance.  Countries are prohibited under international law from returning refugees to persecution, but they are not required to take them in.  (source:  International Refugee Law, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Switzerland, http://www.geneva-academy.ch/RULAC/international_refugee_law.php)

  • The immigration debate in the United States has focused disproportionately on illegal immigration, crime and the plight of poor immigrants.  As a result, many immigrants are bullied and verbally abused within their new communities.  Little attention has been paid to the positive impact of immigration and how immigrants affect their local economies.  Now, the government is beginning to respond with compassion to illegal immigrants who have a long history in the U.S., by streamlining the legal immigration system and providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  (NOTE: George Mason University has launched the Institute for Immigration Research to use census data to build a national map pinpointing self-employed immigrants, track graduate students, and measure their economic impact.)

  • A Lesson from Germany.  German police arrested a prominent Islamic extremist preacher, accusing him of supporting a foreign terrorist group.  It is the latest sign that Germany is grappling with a growing threat from radical Islam.  Now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Germany is reaching its limit for accepting Mideast refugees.  Germany has taken in about 1 million people who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS.  Time magazine just named Merkel Person of the Year for her open-door policy, quoting her as saying, “I’m surprised at how faint-hearted we sometimes are, and how quickly we lose courage.” 

    Later, the Washington Post reported Merkel saying, “Multiculturalism is a sham that has utterly failed.  “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies.  Refugees need to assimilate into German culture, respect the country’s laws, and contribute to their communities."    (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Chancellor of the Free World,” Person of the Year, Time Magazine, "Islamic Threat," CBN News, December 2015) 

  • America has given refuge to millions of people seeking refuge.   Except those of pure Native American origin, every one of us is of immigrant descent.  
“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  
(from the base of the Statue of Liberty)  

  • The 10,000th refugee was welcomed to  Spokane in October, 2017.   World Relief only expects to receive 191 in 2018.  ("One year later, refugees still drastically reduced," by Mark Finney, World Relief Spokane, January 26, 2018)

  • Immigration in the U.S.:  The US has the largest number of foreign-born residents in the world.  The U.S. is the global leader in accepting immigrants, taking in about 1 million migrants per year. The U.S. is by far the world leader in accepting new residents, more than doubling its closest rival, which is Turkey.  From 2010 to 2015, The U.S. took in more than 5 million migrants, Turkey less than half that at 2 million, Germany admitted 1,250,000, followed by Canada at 1,176,000, then Russia at 1,118,000, and Australia at 1,023,000.   

    In 2015 the U.S. admitted 60% of the total number of refugees resettled worldwide.   (Source:  U.S. Migration vs. Other Countries, Migration Policy Institute; and Doug McKelway, America's Newsroom, Fox News, February 15, 2017)

  • In 2016, the number of refugees the United States accepted increased from 70,000 to 85,000.  Spokane’s yearly number increased from under 500 to 600 in 2016.  (Mark Kadel, director of World Relief Spokane)

  • Legal immigrants account for 3/4 of all immigrants.  The proportion is higher for their children.  Immigrants and their offspring now account for most U.S. population growth.  Between 2016 and 2065, they will represent almost 90% of growth.  (Pew Research Center, 2016)

  • There are 100,000 undocumented immigrants in the state of Washington.  Many are farm workers who live in the shadows.  (Robb McCann, Catholic Charities, GVSN Meeting, January 14, 2016) 

  • An estimated 11.1 million immigrants were living illegally in the U.S. in 2014.  Mexicans made up the majority of undocumented immigrants in the U.S in 2014.  Fourteen percent of undocumented immigrants had lived in the U.S. for less than 5 years in 2014, compared to 31% in 2005.  (Undocumented population in U.S. largely unchanged, by Josh Hicks, Washington Post, September 21, 2016; Pew Research; U.S. Census Bureau)

  • Over 60 million refugees (half are children) have been made homeless from conflicts in the Middle East, including the way in Syria.  The crisis of war and the millions of people fleeing their homes has reached levels unprecedented since World War II.

    "September 11th changed the world.  Our deepest fears now haunt us.  Yet, I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.  As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, 'As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore,'" said California Rep. Barbara Lee.   It is much more difficult to wage peace than to wage war.  ('Waging war in Mideast has failed," by Amy Goodman, executive producer of Democracy Now!, November 6, 2015) 

  • Immigrants are more likely than native citizens to start their own businesses, according to research.  Five percent of naturalized citizens are self-employed compared with just 3.7 percent of native-born Americans. (Research at the Immigrant Learning Center in Massachusetts) 

  • More than a quarter of all biotech companies had at least one immigrant founder.  In Boston, New York City and Philadelphia, immigrants started 40% of all transportation companies--and immigrants are not 40% of the population.  (Research at the  Immigrant Learning Center in Massachusetts)
What You Can Do
  • Get acquainted with our neighbors from different countries.  Build friendships around sharing each others’ culture.  As we learn from each other, we will see that all people want the same things for themselves and their families—safety, health and opportunity.  

  • Learn about the refugee children who are welcomed into the schools in Spokane.  (click here)

  • Although the children are quickly absorbed into our schools, Washington is failing the parents who also have limited English, and they are left behind.  “It is not enough to focus our language efforts only on students.  As a system, our public schools must give educators the tools they need to build strong partnerships with all families, including those with limited English proficiency.”  (Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, January 2015) 
  • Volunteer to work directly with community groups to aid refugees in adapting to life in Spokane. Help relieve the suffering of children and families who are hungry, those that are frightened, those that are seeking and looking for peace and confidence and assurance.  Volunteers can help with needed supplies of hygiene items and clothing, as well as bringing some happiness into the lives of children with toys to comfort, entertain and delight them. 

    Remember - Language and culture barriers can be broken down by universal things, such as music and love.  Volunteers who do not speak a foreign language, can still communicate with refugees - with your eyes, your smiles, and your arms in embracing them and trying to give them peace and comfort.  There is an international language of love that takes place when you talk heart-to-heart. 

  • Consider some simple ways to reach out to refugees, those who might be feeling lonely or out of place.  They need friends to help them adjust to their new home, to help them learn a new language, understand the systems, and feel connected.  Use your own personal interests and talents to touch others in meaningful ways:

    Be a sincere friend; welcome new people to your neighborhood; donate household goods; learn the names of the children; be a mentor; help children study; offer to babysit; make a visit occasionally; give a ride; visit people who are ill; act as a grandma or grandpa to someone whose family is far away; get to know firsthand what is really needed, rather than what you assume they need; exchange ideas and experiences; teach a new skill, or learn a new skill; help someone practice interviewing for a job; offer employment to someone; teach a sport, or learn a sport; share a meal; learn about the food, holidays and traditions of others, and share a holiday together; teach each other songs and jokes; ask questions; learn about the strengths in other cultures; promote compassion and understanding; take a stand against intolerance.  (source for the ideas:  "40 Ways to Help Refugees," by Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor, https://www.lds.org/church/news/40-ways-to-help-refugees?lang=eng)

  • In their former lives (speaking of refugees), they were doctors, computer scientists, lawyers, police officers, actors, engineers, plumbers and shopkeepers.   When asked by a reporter what she wishes Americans understood about the refugee crisis?  Lisa said, "I wish Americans understood that the people who have left their countries, that the decisions they've made have been made with the most courage that I have ever seen.  That they are not coming here to take your job, they're not coming here to bomb your place.  They are coming here because they are running form bombs, from the Islamic State, from the Taliban, from seeing their husbands and their sons and their brothers and their fathers being blown up or being conscripted.  If you can't see what they are running form in Syria, you absolutely aren't watching the news. 

    "They are an asset to communities.  That's what I want people to know.  Stop being so worried, stop being so hateful.  Stop it!  Get to know them.  Spend 10 minutes talking to one of them.  Get to know who they are before you pass these judgments."  (source:  Lisa Campbell, manager of Oinofyta Refugee Camp near Athens, Greece, Managing a Refugee Camp, Deseret News, April 16, 2017) 

  • Volunteer to help interpret or teach English to those from foreign countries.  Refugees are coming from different cultures and backgrounds.  Interpret, translate, and assist with housing, schools, and health care; and encourage them to be independent and self-reliant. 
  • Immigrants and refugees who need help learning English, will find some ESL classes (English as a Second Language) listed on the following page:

  • Become a volunteer indexer with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project.   The United States is a nation of immigrant families.  Records that document the immigration and naturalization of our ancestors include crew and passenger lists, immigration and border crossing records, passports, and citizenship and naturalization documents.  Many of these documents are not yet indexed, making individuals and families difficult to find.  Help make more records searchable online.  Join hundreds of thousands of volunteers in a community effort to make more of these records searchable online, so everyone can find their ancestors.  Indexing is a fun challenge that rewards both the volunteer and the future researcher.  No special skills or fixed time commitments are required.  Volunteer when you can. Register, sign in, and follow a few simple steps.  Help families discover the stories of their ancestors.  For more information, go to http://www.FamilySearch.org/immigration.
Local Organizations
Additional Resources

1-888-201-1014 toll free
1-888-201-9737 TDD
1-888-387-7111 People age 60 and over
Free legal services for low-income people in non-criminal matters.  Coordinated legal education, advice, and referral system.
A program of the Northwest Justice Project

Immigration Issues
World Relief Spokane Immigration Legal Services
1522 N. Washington Street, Suite 204
Spokane, WA   99201
(509) 321-0327
Vanessa Nelsen, Managing Attorney
Immigration legal assistance with DACA, citizenship, green cards and family petitions.
Office of Washington Senator Maria Cantwell
Constituent Services Washington, DC
717 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3441
Constituent Services Spokane
920 W. Riverside, Suite 697
Spokane, WA 99210
(509) 353-2507

Spokane International Translation
104 S. Freya (Tapio Center)
Spokane, WA
(509) 327-8064
They provide oral or written interpreters and translations of 47 languages.  They serve the legal, medical and business community, offering to translate documents and providing interpreters.  They also aid in the communication process between people from a foreign country and the manner in which the United States functions. 

Spokane School District 82 - Equity Office

Vickie Countryman, Director
(509) 354-5953

Washington Human Rights Commission

Spokane District Office
Rock Point Plaza III
1330 N. Washington St., Suite 2460
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 568-3196
The Mission of the Washington State Human Rights Commission is to eliminate and prevent discrimination through the fair application of the law, the efficient use of resources, and the establishment of partnerships with the community.