Three days. Twenty sessions. Fifty speakers. Seventy people representing 14 states. Urns and urns of coffee.
This is the annual HIAS National Resettlement Conference, a veritable boot camp for refugee resettlement workers who prepare for, receive, and facilitate integration of the nearly 3,500 refugees HIAS affiliates resettle across the country each year. This year, participants have gathered in Philadelphia—birthplace to the systemization of American liberty—to learn about programmatic updates from resettlement partners in the U.S. government as well as strategies to strengthen systems the resettlement network has in place to help resettled refugees actualize their own conceptions of liberty.
Day one: what lies ahead. Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) at the U.S. Department of State, helped kick off the conference, discussing how to safeguard recent achievements in refugee resettlement and, specifically, the U.S.'s commitment to staying the course to help the unprecedented numbers of refugees fleeing devastating emergencies around the globe in locations such as Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Sudan. Following, participants looked at numbers in the resettlement pipeline, populations to expect, changes and goals of the American refugee resettlement program as a whole, and the (positive) effect of efforts to avoid the dreaded “fourth quarter bump” in arrivals.
The key immigration advocacy: make sure constituents have their voices heard. According to Melanie Nezer, HIAS’ Senior Director Policy & Advocacy, those who do the work of resettling refugees are frequently best poised to also advocate on their behalf. “You are so important in everything we do in Washington. If we are going to get the immigration reform bill through Congress, we are going to need you and will be asking you for your help.” She was referring to the recent strides in immigration reform put forth in Congress, which she called “the best immigration bill we’ve seen, and our best chance at positive change for immigrants and refugees.”
Highlight of Day One: an official welcome by Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia. At a late-afternoon reception at the National Museum of American History (an added bonus: attendees were able to view contributions from HIAS’ own archives), he focused on helping refugees. “Our job is to provide service to anyone who is here,” he noted, adding that “but for the opportunity to come here, we would all be somewhere else being persecuted.” This strongly resonated with representatives of HIAS’ affiliate network of agencies who devote their professional—and frequently personal—lives to ensuring that each refugee is welcomed and prepared for new lives in safety and liberty.
Day Two: cultural orientation, protection gaps facing minorities in regard to gender identity or sexual orientation, medical and mental health case management on the eve of both the Affordable Care Act implementation and the arrival of the first substantial wave of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and, finally, exchanging ideas about training for resettlement staff.