refugees

DNC video

President-elect Joe Biden is planning to reinforce the nation’s refugee resettlement efforts after a dramatic decrease in admissions under President Trump. A Bowling Green-based refugee resettlement agency is hoping to help many more people once Biden becomes president.

Biden wants to set the refugee admission’s cap to 125,000 and then gradually increase that number over time. Under the Obama administration, 110,000 refugees were allowed to resettle. The Trump administration cut admissions to 15,000, the lowest number of refugees coming into the U.S. on record.

Albert Mbanfu, the executive director of the International Center in Bowling Green, said while Biden’s plan is promising, it won’t have an immediate impact. He said due to the limited number of refugees currently being allowed into the country, the resettlement process has slowed drastically.


President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reassert America's commitment to refugees after the Trump White House's slashing of the resettlement program, part of the current president's anti-immigration drive.

In 2016, President Barack Obama aimed to admit 110,000 refugees. President Trump lowered the cap on refugee admissions every year of his presidency. For fiscal year 2021, he set the cap at 15,000, the lowest on record.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Refugee resettlement officials in Bowling Green believe the international community should be among the first to have access to a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available. 

Executive director of the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green, Albert Mbanfu, said the refugee community is at high risk because of their living arrangements and because many are essential workers. Most refugees that the International Center has helped place in jobs were working in processing plants where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred. 


Lisa Autry

Refugee resettlement in Kentucky has been significantly lower over the past 12 months than what was seen during the previous federal fiscal year. The number of refugees arriving in the Commonwealth has decreased by more than 50 percent according to the Warren County based International Center of Kentucky. 

The United States temporary suspended resettlement programs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Center of Kentucky based didn’t have any new arrivals from March until early August. This year, the center was only able to resettle 162 refugees during the federal fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. Many of those refugees are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 


geobotticella via Flickr

Out of Rodrigo’s three kids, his middle son is in the most unique situation.

The youngest is a U.S. citizen and the oldest a DACA recipient. But the middle kid is not authorized to be in the country.

“It’s frustrating,” Rodrigo told WPLN News in Spanish. “You don’t want to feel like you are living in the shadows.”

Rodrigo, who didn’t want his last name used because of his immigration status, says his kid has been without a legal status since he arrived in the U.S., and when he was about to apply for DACA in 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was ending the program.

Ileana Gaynor

Schools across Kentucky are shut down for the remainder of the academic year because of COVID-19, and most students are adapting to virtual learning.

But students who were already struggling, or have English as a second or third language, are at-risk for falling behind. 

Educators in Owensboro Public Schools, like teachers across the nation, are increasing communication to keep at-risk students engaged.

Estes Elementary in Owensboro, which has students in preschool through 5th grade, has about 100 "English Learners." Those students are dealing with the combined challenges of language and the loss of in-person instruction in the classroom.


Becca Schimmel

Bowling Green is home to residents from dozens of countries, and schools where students speak about 90 different languages. One of the biggest challenges facing members of the city’s international community is the language barrier.

That can be especially true in the areas of healthcare and housing. 

Navigating the many obstacles of finding a place to live in Bowling Green can be difficult enough for someone who’s a native of the area. Now imagine the challenges faced by someone who struggles to speak English. 


Becca Schimmel

The City of Bowling Green unveiled a new plan Tuesday aimed at building more inclusive communities that are economically vibrant for refugees and immigrants. 

 

The “Welcoming Plan” aims to create a stronger economy, provide safer and more connected communities, and promote resources for New American residents. “New Americans” are defined as any foreign-born person living in the region regardless of immigration status. 

 

Leyda Becker is Bowling Green’s International Community Liason and helped put the strategic plan together. She said refugees and immigrants kept telling her about the challenges they faced finding local jobs. 


Liz Schlemmer

 Kentucky’s legislative session kicked off with lots of conservative red meat on Tuesday — gun rights advocates held a day-long rally outside the Capitol and leaders of the state Senate announced that their top two bills will be an anti-“sanctuary city” policy and a voter ID proposal.

But the main task lawmakers will have to tackle over the next 59 working days will be writing a new two-year state budget while state revenue is predicted to be far outpaced by costs.

 


Stephen Jerkins/WPLN

 Two Republican lawmakers want to give the legislature the power to decide whether refugees should be allowed to resettle in Tennessee.

The bill, filed by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, is the latest in a contentious debate between the legislature and Gov. Bill Lee.

The new proposal would create a two-step process. First, local governments would have to weigh in.

 


Lisa Autry

Bowling Green’s refugee resettlement agency is unsure how many refugees will be resettled in the new year, or where they’ll come from. The International Center of Kentucky is accepting refugees as they come in with little knowledge of how many they’re expected to receive. 

Executive Director Albert Mbanfu said the agency is working on an extended fiscal year, and they’re not sure when the new one will begin. 


Adam Hatcher/GEO International

Educators in the Bowling Green and Warren County school systems worry there’s a growing need for mental health resources aimed at helping refugee students. Many of those students living in southern Kentucky are adjusting to their new lives after facing trauma in their previous homes.

When refugees arrive in the United States, they’ve often been living in refugee camps for a decade or more.

Former Warren County educator Skip Cleavinger said students who are coming from war-torn areas often aren’t prepared to learn. That's because many of them are still dealing with the trauma of being forced out of their home country. 


Becca Schimmel

The former director for English Language Learning programs in Warren County said standardized tests aren’t appropriate for many refugees and immigrants, because there’s cultural bias inherent in the tests. 

Skip Cleavinger said one of the biggest challenges for refugee and immigrant students is that they’re expected to perform at the same level as their peers on standardized tests within a year of arriving at the school. 

“One of the primary things is that these standardized tests tend to use more difficult language than is necessary to measure math or reading ability.”


Becca Schimmel

Refugees from Africa who were hoping to be reunited with their family in Kentucky may have to wait a few more years.

That's becuse the federal cap for resettling people from Africa has already been met.

Once the cap on refugees coming to America from specific parts of the world is met, travel plans are canceled, and it could be years before they get another chance to apply for the program.


Becca Schimmel

School leaders in both Warren County and Bowling Green say they’re overwhelmed by the number of refugee and immigrant students filling their classrooms.

Superintendents came to the quartely meeting of the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky Thursday to voice their concerns and say they lack the resources to meet the basic needs of those students.

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said in many cases his system doesn’t have the resources or the time to properly educate students. He said refugees often enroll in school with little to no formal education. 


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