October 4, 2021

Welcoming Afghan Refugees to Oregon

During a January 2017 march at Portland International Airport, a woman holds aloft a banner saying "Refugees Welcome." Photo credit: John Rudoff

The decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August and the stunningly quick fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban have led to the evacuation of more than 124,000 Afghan men, women and children from the country.

Though they are often collectively referred to as refugees, the actual legal status of these evacuees varies. About 5,500 are U.S. citizens. Those who worked directly for or with the U.S. government were eligible for Special Immigrant Visas, which offers an established pathway for permanent residency and citizenship in the United States. The Biden administration has also granted a special humanitarian parole created by the Immigration and Nationality Act to express the departure of those whose lives were especially at risk under Taliban rule, including women and girls, human rights workers and journalists.

A majority of Americans across party lines support bringing Afghan refugees into the United States. But years of Trump era anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-immigration policies have eroded the structural systems needed to handle the administrative, legal and other complexities for those seeking asylum.

Oregon is one of 20 states that have offered to assist with the resettlement of the evacuees. But what does it mean to truly welcome and support these new arrivals? What role can Meyer — and philanthropy more broadly — play in ensuring that Oregon’s newest residents are not only allowed to exist in their adoptive home, but are truly included and integrated as valued members of our community?

While humanitarian parole allows individuals to enter and stay in the United States without a visa, it does not connect them to the established welcoming and integration services associated with official refugee status. Without this status, many of those entering the United States are ineligible for financial, food and health care benefits, employment assistance or access to English language classes.

Meyer’s Response

While the Biden administration, Congress and other advocates are working on remedies, Meyer and its funder partners in the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Collaborative (OIRFC) are working quickly to respond to the immediate need for assistance. Meyer, through the OIRFC has designated $300,000 in grants to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO).

The following two grants will support efforts to grow legal capacity and resources for incoming Afghan arrivals. One agency offers cultural, religious and linguistic competency as well as a promising recently launched immigration legal department. The other has a fully established legal team ready to handle these complex and urgent cases. These agencies will partner to efficiently and effectively meet the human and legal needs of Afghan arrivals to Oregon.

Immigrant and Refugee Community of Oregon (IRCO)

 

Grant of $200,000 to prepare to provide services for an influx of refugees from Afghanistan following the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban.

Established in 1978, IRCO works to promote the integration of refugees, immigrants, and the community at large into a self- sufficient, healthy and inclusive multiethnic society. IRCO’s 500-plus staff is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse workforces in Oregon, collectively speaking 98 languages and representing 73 ethnicities, with 72% identifying as immigrants or refugees.

Since the Immigrant Legal Services (ILS) program at IRCO was launched two years ago, it has provided legal services to thousands of immigrants and refugees. It is the only nonprofit legal service provider founded and led by immigrant and refugee community members that can provide services in more than 90 languages. ILS has provided refugee/asylee status adjustment, naturalization, disability waivers, work permits, green card renewals and certificates of citizenship. It has supported clients in deportation proceedings, including asylum and cancellation of removal applications; and has linked newcomers to basic needs and other social services.

As the only immigration law office in a community-based organization, IRCO ILS is particularly suited to provide culturally and linguistically specific services to the many refugees from a vast number of immigrant communities that will be making Oregon their home. It has applied to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and is expected to become a designated refugee resettlement agency by January 2022.

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO)

 

Grant for $100,000 in preparation to provide culturally and linguistically specific services for an influx of refugees from Afghanistan.

With a mission of bringing together Oregon's diverse faith community to work for the common good, EMO offers direct service programs, educational dialogue and public policy advocacy to both address the immediate needs of Oregon's most vulnerable communities and to provide a values-based platform for the creation of a more just, compassionate, socially aware and engaged society.

EMO’s legal immigration department, SOAR Legal, has served Oregon’s low- and no-income immigrant population since 1992. Every year, it provides culturally competent and trauma-informed immigration related legal representation and education to over 2,700 refugees and immigrants. SOAR Legal plans to create a large-scale training campaign for the broader attorney population to increase their ability to serve clients.

The OIRFC will be meeting with the other resettlement agencies in Oregon — Lutheran Community Services Northwest and Catholic Charities — to discuss anticipated needs as we get more word about Afghan immigrant arrivals. We have been told to expect approximately 180 Afghans over the next few months, with possibly more to come. I am hopeful that Oregonians will do what we can to truly welcome and support each and every one.

— Sally