Dear Allies of RMM,
Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc., is heartened by the many responses we’ve received to the recent statement by our Executive Director, the Rev. Richard Witt, regarding the arrival of refugees in upstate New York. While this arrival of asylum-seekers is being met with prejudice and fear, there are also a great many people who want to help. Here is what we know and what we are doing:
New York City is sending refugees to towns outside of the City — abruptly and without coordination with local governments and non-profits. We believe that in large part, they are not connecting with municipalities because there is such a strong anti-immigrant feeling and fear, and a refusal to accept people. The City has hired for-profit organizations to book hotel rooms and provide food — and that seems to be it. As a result, hundreds of people are arriving with no supportive services, brand-new to living in America and speaking a foreign language (Arabic, French, Spanish, etc.)
At present, these immigrants are all men, and most have entered in the asylum process; this means they will be able to apply for work authorization after an initial waiting period. They also will need to be in NYC several months from now for court hearings on their asylum status.
Several hundred men have arrived in Orange County and more initially were sent to Sullivan County — met by lots of protestors. Those who arrived in Sullivan County have now been bused to Dutchess County.
We have heard that the City has contracted with several hotels in Riverhead, Long Island —where municipal officials pre-emptively declared a state of emergency in order to thwart the arrival of refugees there. The City’s plan appears to be to bus immigrants to counties going up the Hudson River and across New York State.
What RMM is doing:
In the short term, we are trying to marshal our limited staff to meet the men and get a sense of their needs, while also trying to find out which agencies are doing what.
However, RMM is really focused on the longer term. We are concerned about what happens in the months to come:
- How do people find housing?
- They need jobs — ones that are NOT exploitative.
- How do they get to court for their hearings?
- How do they overcome prejudice?
To this end, we are working to utilize our Rural Academy of the People to set up ESL programs and workshops that help folks navigate these systems and avoid exploitation.
What you can do:
A number of agencies in Orange, Sullivan and Dutchess Counties have coordinated their efforts to help meet the humanitarian needs of these refugees. For the moment, they appear to have a very good handle on identifying and meeting the specific needs.
Here at RMM, we are seeking tutors, ESL teachers, rights advocates, drivers and other volunteers. Here are some other important ways you can help:
- Speak out in the name of love. Help to raise awareness, both individually and through the support of our congregations and allies, about the need to welcome the foreigner in our midst. Write letters to the editor. Post signs. Shout it from the rooftops. Talk to anyone who will listen. Include the following tagline in your messaging: #refugeeswelcome.
- Remember that the arrival of these refugees brings opportunity not just for themselves, but for our communities. Immigrants have historically made remarkable contributions to America. There are benefits to be realized by everyone. We desperately need workers in our communities, and refugees in our communities desperately want to work!
- Support RMM with a financial contribution, and please consider sustaining our work on a monthly basis. Your donation allows us to provide the vital resources needed by these refugees to integrate into our communities.
- As move we toward World Refugee Day on June 20, this annual event gives us pause to think about how we respond to the need in our own communities. It is vital to support those who arrive with our humanitarian aid – but the larger question remains, Why are there refugees worldwide? What are the systemic issues that cause citizens to flee their homeland to seek safety, freedom, and opportunity elsewhere? What can we as individuals and communities do to address these issues?
- Remember the humanity of these men, women and children in your individual and congregational prayers. These are not faceless statistics; these are human beings — and no human being is illegal. Remember that they are fleeing oppressive conditions. It is our duty to ensure that they are protected against further oppression and exploitation as they seek safety, opportunity and hope for the future.