HIAS Receives Major Recognition from U.S. Government: Commendation for work and $450,000 grant for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Posted on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

HIAS Chairman Marc Silberberg (far right) joins with other recipients of the USCIS Director’s Award, presented by USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas (center) at a ceremony in Washington, DC yesterday.

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, received two major recognitions from the U.S. government in as many days.

Yesterday, the agency received the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Director’s Award for Effective Interagency Cooperation. The award recognizes HIAS’ contributions to the Israeli government’s refugee status determination program (RSD). Receiving the award simultaneously were the Israeli Government’s Ministry of Interior (MOI), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the U.S. Department of State, and HIAS. It was presented to HIAS Chairman of the Board, Marc Silberberg, by USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas at a ceremony in Washington.

Today, HIAS was selected to receive a grant totaling $450,000 as part of the USCIS Fiscal Year 2010 Citizenship and Integration Grant Program. USCIS Director Mayorkas announced that 75 organizations, including HIAS, from 27 states and the District of Columbia have been selected to receive a total of $7.8 million in grants to promote citizenship education and immigrant integration in communities across the country. The grants were announced today to celebrate both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, which fall on September 17.

According to Marc Silberberg, Chairman of the Board of HIAS, “HIAS is extremely gratified for the recognition of its work that this grant from the U.S. government represents. We have always been on the cutting edge of integrating immigrants and assisting them to achieve citizenship. This grant reconfirms our achievements in this field and allows us to continue and expand our work with our resettlement partners.”

The grant will allow HIAS to help build and strengthen citizenship programs at three of our affiliates – Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services in Clearwater, FL; Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts in Springfield, MA; and US Together in Columbus, OH. The grant will also give HIAS the opportunity to develop new citizenship exam study materials and update existing ones. HIAS’ comprehensive and innovative proposal focuses on building capacity for local organizations to conduct community outreach and provide citizenship education and legal services to immigrants, and on creating a model that can be replicated at other sites in the future. This will ensure that immigrants continue to reap the benefits of the grant far into the future and will solidify HIAS’ role as a national leader in the area of citizenship.

In presenting the USCIS Director’s Award to HIAS yesterday, USCIS Director Mayorkas said: “USCIS seeks to perform its mission with the same inspiring commitment to international protection as HIAS. The accomplishments of HIAS and the other partners in this effort exemplify the success that can come from innovative international partnerships that include governments, international organizations, and non-governmental entities.”

While Israel was the first country in the Middle East to sign the Refugee Convention of 1951, so few asylum seekers entered Israel that it was able to rely on the UNHCR to decide refugee claims. By 2008, however, thousands of asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere began entering Israel through the Sinai. Israel therefore was compelled to build an asylum system that would both protect its borders and prevent refugees from being handed over to their persecutors. The Ministry of the Interior requested the expertise of the UNHCR, HIAS, and USCIS to assist in building a trained corps of Israeli asylum officers. HIAS took a lead role in designing and teaching freshly recruited Israeli asylum officers in refugee status determination procedures, working through its representative in Tel Aviv, Joel Moss, a former official on the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board.

Upon receiving the award yesterday, HIAS Chairman Silberberg said: “We are deeply honored by USCIS’ recognition of our work to develop Israel’s Refugee Status Determination system. This was a unique collaborative effort between the non-governmental organization of HIAS, two governments, and the United Nations to develop a system that will give Israel the ability to regulate migration while protecting refugees.”