BT! Church World Service working hard to get Syrian Muslims placed in Lancaster, PA
Posted by Ann Corcoran on January 2, 2017
This is the first of two posts (second one is here) on Lancaster, PA this morning. I’ve been interested in Lancaster ever since that city’s refugee program was linked to Church World Service’s (CWS) placement of refugees in my county seat. Those were mostly Meshketian (Russian Turkish Muslims) back in 2007.
Five years later, I traveled to Lancaster to a meeting of the refugee industry there—the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement was meeting with refugee contractors and advocates in 2013. A federal ORR employee shocked me by referring to any of the communities questioning the program as “pockets of resistance.” He was happy to tell the gathering that Pennsylvania was ‘welcoming’ and didn’t have any PORs.
If you would like to get some background on Lancaster before reading this below, click here for our Lancaster archive.
This is the news that appeared in the New York Times and reposted here in Vermont newspaper. Church World Service (with the NYT) is trying so hard to make everything look so perfect in Lancaster. But, it isn’t and you will see what I mean in my next post.
Their [Syrian family—ed] imminent arrival explains all the commotion inside this slate-colored house in the small city of Lancaster, in south-central Pennsylvania. The state may have gone to Donald Trump, who likened the Syrian resettlement program to a “a great Trojan horse” for terrorists. But he isn’t president yet.
He [Josh, CWS’s 26 year old housing guy—ed] scours a government checklist of housing requirements for a resettlement [Contractors sign contracts to provide essential items for the refugees’ new home—ed], mindful that whatever he spends is deducted from a refugee’s one-time government grant of no more than $1,125. A family’s combined grants must cover its rent and other expenses until the nonprofit has helped the adults acquire Social Security numbers and jobs.
I want you to know (and the NYT doesn’t) that it is $1,125 per family member, so the Syrian family of 6 being discussed here will get $6,750 (plus welfare) and that CWS will get another approximately $6,750 as their share (of your tax dollars) to resettle this family (for their salaries and overhead).
Such encounters [Josh meets a refugee at Walmart***] happen often in Lancaster, whose rich history of acceptance is rooted, in part, in the influence of the Mennonites, Amish and other faiths. A glimpse of the local worldview came in January when a supportive rally of more than 200 people drowned out a much smaller anti-immigrant protest outside the Church World Service office in Lancaster. [See our report on the resistors rally, here.]
Sheila Mastropietro, the group’s longtime supervisor in Lancaster, took heart in the moment. It reflected a communal understanding of both the global refugee crisis and the rigorous screening process that refugees undergo before coming to the United States. [The communal understanding is wearing thin as you will see in my next post.—ed]
The big question for the resettlement contractors is: What will Trump do and when will he do it?
Still, given a president-elect who seems averse to the country’s modest commitment to refugee relocation, Mastropietro says, “We don’t know what to expect.”
Last fiscal year, the Lancaster office of the Church World Service helped to resettle 407 of the 85,000 refugees admitted to this country; this fiscal year, its target is 550 of a hoped-for 110,000.
“We are acting as if the numbers are going to be the same — until we hear something different,” she says.
Lancaster a happy “medley of cultures” (then why did Lancaster County go 57% for Trump):
Decades of resettlement work have transformed the Lancaster area into a medley of cultures so rich that Amer Alfayadh, 34, a senior case manager, struggles to name them all: “Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese, Ukrainians, Belorussians, people from Kazakhstan. Then, of course, Lebanese, Palestinians. Bhutanese, Nepalese, Burmese, Sri Lankans …”
***I would love to know what the deal is with Walmart. Wherever I traveled on my middle America tour this past summer, I heard that Walmart was a gathering place for Muslim refugees. Is Walmart giving them gift cards or other goodies? Does anyone know?
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