Tens of thousands of refugee immigrants come to America every year. And in many cases local communities where they settle struggle to meet their needs because of limited resources.
That's why recently proposed federal legislation deserves support. Introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the "Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act'' would reform both the pre- and post-arrival processing of refugees. It would get immigrants started on learning English and workforce skills while they are still overseas and would begin medical and security clearances.
Such immigrants would be admitted to the United States as lawful permanent residents, saving government resources.
The bill also would expand federal help to support a range of programs in employment, housing and health care available to immigrants once they arrive. That would make more funds available to states like Minnesota -- with one of the largest per capita populations of refugees in the nation. Between 1999 and 2007 over 34,000 refugees were resettled in Minnesota.
On a larger scale, the bill would do some of what a St. Paul delegation did in early 2004 to help prepare for a large wave of Hmong immigrants that was expected in the city later that year. With the help of local foundations, then-Mayor Randy Kelly took a group to a refugee camp in Thailand to determine the needs of immigrants and help various local agencies pave the way for their arrival.
Such advance preparation can connect refugee immigrants to the services they need and integrate them into their new communities more quickly. The faster they learn English and find jobs and housing, the sooner they can do without government assistance.
A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report about refugee resettlement said that improved consultation and coordination with communities that accept immigrants would help the integration process. About a dozen national and local religious and immigrant advocate groups support the proposed bill.
In 2011, the United States welcomed more than 56,000 refugees from countries around the world -- all cleared by the U.S. federal government as having legitimate reasons to flee their countries. Similar numbers are expected this year and in the future.
Moving those new Americans to self sufficiency is essential -- both for the immigrants and the communities in which they settle. Ellison's proposal would improve resettlement procedures and help refugees become independent more rapidly.
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