Refugee Resettlement Discussed at the 2022 JFNA General Assembly

Refugee Resettlement Discussed at the 2022 JFNA General Assembly

On November 1st, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) came together in Chicago for the General Assembly (GA). The GA brings together Jewish leaders from across the country to explore major global and domestic issues affecting Jewish communities.

Jessica Schaffer, Director of HIAS & Immigration & Citizenship at JCFS Chicago, spoke on a panel alongside Mark Hetfield, President & CEO of HIAS International, and Bonnie Burdman, Executive Director, Community Relations/Government Affairs, of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation. Together, they addressed resettlement challenges, particularly for Afghans and Ukrainians, and how local communities can support newcomers through advocacy and direct service.

Jessica began her portion by focusing on immediate hurdles facing Afghans and Ukrainians, who are not being admitted to the United States through the traditional Refugee Admissions Program and are instead arriving through pathways that grant temporary – not permanent – legal status.

“Afghans and Ukrainians are not being granted status as refugees. They're currently admitted as humanitarian parolees, which is not a permanent status,” Jessica said. “Whereas a refugee is eligible to apply for their green card after one year of arrival, a parolee cannot. So, we've had to build relationships with external legal service providers and increase our own capacity for legal services to help individuals understand their legal options and get on a pathway toward permanent legal status if eligible. This includes helping individuals apply for asylum.”

Key to addressing this challenge is advocacy for the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow Afghans who paroled into the United States as part of “Operation Allies Welcome” the opportunity to apply for their green cards one year after arrival. This would eliminate the need to jump through the lengthy and retraumatizing asylum process. There is also hope that similar legislation addressing the temporary admission of Ukrainian parolees will follow.

The panel also discussed the complex issue of equity and garnering community support for all refugees, regardless of faith, background, or reason for plight. They expressed support for rebuilding and adequate funding of the Refugee Admissions Program, which was decimated under the previous Presidential administration.

While advocacy is important, so is living the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger and offering friendship to newcomers through mentorship. The panel wrapped up with a discussion and Q&A on how communities can support refugees of diverse backgrounds and experiences. “Joining with the community to welcome refugees is so important,” said Jessica. “I was inspired by this session, and by the ways that communities – large and small, in all corners of the country – are thinking about how they can welcome newcomers with dignity, grace, and respect. The Jewish community responded with great enthusiasm when we were called to welcome Afghans and now Ukrainians. Let us be clear in demonstrating that our communities and country are proud to welcome anyone in need of safety and security regardless of who they are and where they’re coming from.”    

There are many ways to work in partnership with local resettlement agencies, and HIAS welcomes volunteers of all demographics to partner with us in our work. For more information, visit the JCFS Chicago HIAS website, or call 312.357.4666.